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Bulls’ task is daunting, but they’re not afraid of defending-champ Heat

Bulls forward Taj Gibsfouls Heforward LeBrJames as he drives basket fourth quarter Chicago Bulls 101-97 wover Miami HeWednesday March 27

Bulls forward Taj Gibson fouls Heat forward LeBron James as he drives to the basket in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls 101-97 win over the Miami Heat Wednesday March 27, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 6, 2013 10:31AM

MIAMI — There were no guarantees, no promises of winning.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t tough talk coming from the Bulls. When it comes to the Miami Heat, there usually is.

‘‘We don’t need to be scared about [playing them],’’ guard Marco Belinelli said. ‘‘We know that we’re going to be playing against one of the best teams in the league. We’re not going to be scared and our mentality is to win, so we’re going there to try that. Why do we have to be afraid? It’s a basketball game. We just need to go and play hard.’’

It is just a basketball game. But if the Bulls can win four of them against the defending champion Heat starting Monday, they will be a very unlikely guest in the Eastern Conference finals.

But this isn’t just a normal
series. The Bulls have a dislike for the Heat stemming from the 2011 playoffs, when they were the top seed in the conference finals but were sent packing by the Heat in five games. Most of that dislike comes from center Joakim Noah, who openly admits he doesn’t have warm feelings for the Heat.

‘‘Obviously, they’re the best,’’ Noah said. ‘‘We want to play against the best. That’s what it’s all about, playing against the defending champs. It’s going to be a war.’’

Not quite the ‘‘Hollywood as hell’’ label he gave the Heat after the playoff showdown two seasons ago, but his teammates followed
his lead.

‘‘This is different,’’ forward Taj Gibson said. ‘‘It’s a different ballgame. This is our rivalry. Words cannot express how bad we want to beat them, but we just have to focus.’’

And get healthy.

After the Bulls’ victory Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets, guard Kirk Hinrich (bruised left calf)
said he would do everything he could to be ready for Game 1
against the Heat. Meanwhile, forward Luol Deng isn’t expected to play after Comcast SportsNet Chicago reported he was readmitted to the hospital and didn’t travel to
Miami. Deng had a spinal tap Wednesday before further complications landed him in the hospital again and forced him to miss Games 6 and 7 against the Nets.

Then there’s guard Derrick Rose, who had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee a year ago and hasn’t played this season. While Rose wouldn’t rule himself out against the Heat, he was still ‘‘feeling the same,’’ so it’s highly unlikely.

‘‘Still being patient, still trying to take care of my body and just trying to enjoy this time and cheer on my teammates,’’ Rose said Saturday.

The good news is the Bulls had enough to dispose of the Nets in the first round. The bad news is these aren’t the Nets. Not even close.

‘‘Heart can’t beat great teams like the Heat,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘We need guys healthy and guys executing at their highest.’’

And, perhaps more important, making the game physical and ‘‘grimy,’’ as swingman Jimmy Butler put it.

‘‘They’re on a mission, just like we’re on a mission,’’ guard Nate Robinson said. ‘‘Two teams about to collide. It’s about to be a good show.’’

The Bulls are hoping it’s not a quick show.

‘‘We know how good Miami is, so we’re going to have to be at our best, playing great basketball,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘They’re a very deep team, very well-coached, very well-balanced, so we’re going to have to be at our best right from the start.’’

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