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Bulls underdogs yet again for Game 1
by Sam Smith
Posted on May 6
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There have been tougher games to win for the Bulls against the Miami Heat than Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
There was the one when the team was late and Benny and the Elevators had to match up with the 1986 Celtics. And there was the time Shaler Halimon and Kennedy McIntosh took on Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
“We have more than enough to get it done,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was saying at the Bulls’ Monday morning shootaround practice. “That’s what we have to do.”
You tend to doubt Thibodeau less the way the shorthanded Bulls endured in the seventh game to defeat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs.
But this is the Miami Heat, the team with the league’s best record, the defending champions, on a streak of 41 wins in their last 43 games, having been resting for more than a week since sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs and with LeBron James getting his MVP award in the expectant likely throbbing arena before Game 1 begins.
Oh, there’s Luol Deng still back in Chicago with the after effects of his virus and spinal tap over meningitis fears.
“He had a spinal tap,” offered Thibodeau. “So he’s been sick, still not feeling as well as he would like. He’s gone back to the hospital to get tested more, more treatment. I spoke to him this morning and he’s feeling a little better.”
But Deng’s not in Miami and Thibodeau didn’t say he would be for Game 2 Wednesday. It hardly sounded given the circumstances he’d be in any shape to play in Game 2 in any event.
Plus, Kirk Hinrich was listed as a game time decision with his serious calf injury, though that sounded more like a pause to the Heat as it would be surprising to see Hinrich playing in Game 1 given his limited movement.
“It’s slow, steady progress,” Thibodeau said. “But he’s still not there.”
And so Jimmy Butler, say hello to the MVP. You’re not likely to be defending anyone else. Though Thibodeau said he was uncertain about his starting lineup, it seemed likely he’d go the same way as against Brooklyn with Nate Robinson at point guard and Marco Belinelli at shooting guard.
It’s a better matchup for Robinson with Mario Chalmers while Belinelli gets Dwyane Wade, who has had his own knee issues but considerable time to rehabilitate the past week.
Though if there’s a positive for the Bulls it’s, “Been there, done that.”
“Lu is a very important part of the team, sort of the glue of our team,” said Thibodeau. “That being said, he has missed games during the series. He missed games in the last series (and they won).
“Actually it’s been three years (of injuries), “Thibodeau said when asked about the Bulls accustomed to all this. “The first year (2010-11) Joakim missed three months of the season. That’s the nature of the league. You’re always dealing with injuries and it’s how quickly you adapt to changes. We went into the season with the understanding Derrick would miss a good chunk of the season. We knew from the start you don’t replace him individually but collectively.
“As other guys have gone down, we have the confidence we can compete,” said Thibodeau. “We feel good about all the guys on our bench. You have to have mental toughness to face adversity, persevere and get through things. As the season has gone on we’ve come together and have to be at our best in this series.”
As for Rose, he faced the new, growing media contingent with the advance to the second round. He didn’t say anything different than he has in any of his comments since February, that he’s hopeful about playing, has support from the team and his teammates, is working hard and is positive. There’s just a new group of people in to parse the comments.
“It’s no pressure at all,” Rose said. “I haven’t had any pressure from anyone. Not in the organization, not from my teammates. They know I’m putting everything I have on trying to come back as fast as possible. Just trying to be smart with the whole situation. Just taking my time.”
Rose said he understands the interest and has no issue with the constant questioning of his decision. Try that with Deron Williams or Kobe Bryant. Or most any of those guys.
“People want to know where I’m at,” he said as he constantly maintains a patient and understanding approach with media despite the occasional accusatory tone. “So I want to give them an answer. Everybody has their own opinion. The key word is if I’m ready. Right now I’m not ready. So I’m just trying to take my time and really, really be smart. It’s definitely hard but I know that this will be over with pretty soon. Who knows when it’s going to stop but I can’t just get down on myself.
“I know I’m coming (along) pretty good,” Rose said without offering any percentage this time. “My spirits are up. Just happy to be here; family is here, teammates here. Everyone that we need.”
Rose said he’s been occupying himself with movies and watched the latest Bruce Willis Die Hard twice in his hotel room Sunday. He said he’s also listening to music on his computer and is up for another Willis sequel.
“We’re definitely going to miss (Deng) tonight, but we always prepare where someone has to come in and do a job,” Rose said. “We just worry about right now. I feel we have nice shot. I think our chemistry has come along good on both ends of the floor and we’re playing good basketball.
“It’s not the first time,” Rose said with a laugh when asked about adversity. “We’re used to it. It’s us against everyone else. No one is giving us a shot. So we just have to go out there and play hard. Three’s no pressure on us. We’re good.”
We’ll see soon enough.