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Heat, Erik Spoelstra don’t realize devil’s in disguise

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Updated: June 18, 2011 12:38AM



Coach Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat might have overlooked their biggest demon.

I’m talking about the Bulls, who beat Miami 103-82 Sunday night to extend their record against the Heat to 4-0 this season and take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

When the Heat eliminated the aging, injury-riddled Boston Celtics in five games last week, its players shouted, cried, danced and hugged like they had won the NBA title.

Afterward, Spoelstra explained what the commotion was all about.

“It took a 51/2-month season for us to get to this point . . . to exorcise these demons,” Spoelstra said.

“It was a series all of us wanted since training camp.’’

It was something Spoelstra and Heat president Pat Riley wanted because they recalled that Hall of Famer Jerry West, their hero, had never beaten the Celtics as a player to win a championship.

It was also an accomplishment for LeBron James, who had been targeting the Celtics since they eliminated him and the Cleveland Cavaliers from the 2009-10 playoffs in a 32-point loss.

James said this was why he left the Cavs and got together with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

He added that the victory validated his decision to join the Heat because he couldn’t beat Boston without the help of Wade, Bosh and Spoelstra.

“You’re not beating the Celtics with one guy as the focal point of the offense,” James said.

On Monday afternoon, before the Heat practiced at the UIC training facility, Spoelstra was given a chance to do a demon recount.

“Where do the Bulls stand among your demons that need exorcism?” he was asked.

Spoelstra, bless his heart, paused and smiled before he answered.

“Uh . . . I don’t know,” he said. “What I know is, we’re playing for something big and special. That’s the most important thing.

‘‘We know what’s at stake. We did not play to our identity [Sunday] night.

“That happens, unfortunately, during the playoffs. And now it’s a matter of us getting back to our game and trying to take advantage of this opportunity, regardless of how we do it. It could be 48 minutes of hell.”

Yes, Coach, “hell” is the handiwork of demons who wear horns, like the devil or the Bulls.

But wait.

Didn’t the Heat play to its identity in Game 1?

After losing all three games to the Bulls in the regular season by a combined eight points (99-96, 93-89 and 87-86), it lost Sunday by 21. It was the Heat’s third-worst loss of the season.

“But that’s just one loss,” James said. “You can lose by 100 in the playoffs, and it’s just one game.

‘‘Beating us by 21 points doesn’t mean they get two wins.”

James remains wise beyond his years.

But something tells me the Heat’s arithmetic is off.

Miami still refuses to acknowledge its toughest demon of all: the Bulls.



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