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Bulls well-aware of task ahead as series shifts to Miami

Derrick Rose has shot rejected by LeBrJames Game 2 conference finals. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

Derrick Rose has a shot rejected by LeBron James in Game 2 of the conference finals. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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Updated: June 23, 2011 12:45AM



When the Bulls romped to victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals a week ago, the formula looked so promising.

Their suffocating defense short-circuited the Miami Heat’s electrifying offense. Feeding off that, the Bulls controlled the boards and got scoring from a wide range of places to break down the Heat 103-82.

But the Bulls knew better than to think the rest of the series would be that easy. They expected LeBron James and the Heat to come back with their teeth clenched in Game 2, and that’s what they did. After outscoring the Bulls 12-2 in the final seven minutes for an 85-75 victory, the Heat headed home with the split that road teams covet in the playoffs.

‘‘I guess you could say we made [James] mad,’’ guard Ronnie Brewer said. ‘‘I guess we’re mad now, too.’’

Anger. Pride. Determination. A rainbow of emotions will be running through players on both sides when the Bulls try to steal back home-court advantage in Game 3 tonight. The Heat, meanwhile, figures to be equally intent on making American Airlines Arena a larceny-free zone.

For his part, James doesn’t deny that winning an NBA championship is seldom out of his thoughts.

‘‘It happens all day,’’ he said. ‘‘It happens all the time. You dream about it, hoisting that trophy up, the title, seeing the confetti rain. You have to have that vision. If you don’t have that vision, I don’t know exactly what you’re being a part of this postseason for. I have that vision all the time, when I’m awake or I’m sleeping.’’

Coach Tom Thibodeau feels no need to go Knute Rockne on his team to match that kind of intensity. Rah-rah isn’t his strong suit, and anyone who has watched knows the Bulls already have shown their commitment to him and to the championship cause.

‘‘If you have to rely on pep talks at this time of the year, there’s something wrong,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘To me, it’s more about your habits than anything else. Sometimes things will be going your way, sometimes they won’t. You have to be able to navigate through all that. That’s what it’s all about right now — the ability to make tough plays, hustle plays, make great-effort plays, do all the things that will help unite and inspire your teammates.’’

Point guard Derrick Rose knows what’s coming, and he said the Bulls will be ready to take the Heat.

‘‘This is going to be a crazy game,’’ Rose said. ‘‘They’re going to have a lot a confidence. But someway, somehow, we just have to come away with this win. No matter how we get it, we just have to have more intensity than them, and we have to play way more aggressive.’’

The Bulls’ 87-86 victory March 6 in Miami seems like a lifetime ago to both sides. And the Heat doesn’t care that the Bulls haven’t lost back-to-back games since Feb. 5 and 7.

‘‘If it takes home court, that’s what it’s about,’’ James said. ‘‘They talk about they haven’t lost two games in a row. So we’re going to protect home court and try to come out with a win. We’ll see what happens. Something has to give.’’

In a series like this, there are few secrets. Given that, Thibodeau was asked whether intensity or execution matters more.

‘‘It’s a combination of both,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Your strengths and weaknesses as a team don’t change. It’s going to come down to how hard you do it, how well you do it and how long you do it. You have to be able to sustain that intensity throughout the game.’’

One thing the Bulls want to do is to get forward Carlos Boozer more involved. If they can, that will create the inside-out game that will open things up for Rose and the rest of the Bulls’ offense.

‘‘We’ll do our stuff,’’ Boozer said. ‘‘We’ve done lot of preparation. We’re as prepared as we can be for Game 3. Our intensity will be better, our focus will be better. Hopefully, we’ll play better.’’



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