Sunday, March 6, 2011
After the Miami Heat lost their last two games in stunning fashion, questions are mounting about their toughness and confidence.
The Heat can silence some of their critics with a victory over the surging Chicago Bulls on Sunday. A loss, however, would likely still leave them searching for answers.
Miami hopes to earn a rare victory over one of the league's top teams while the Bulls, winners of eight of 10, look to hand the Heat another stinging loss.
The last two games for Miami (43-19) have gone about as bad as they could go.
The Heat blew a 24-point lead in Thursday's 99-96 home loss to Orlando, and fell behind by 24 in the first quarter in Friday's 125-95 defeat at San Antonio, their most lopsided loss of the season. It was the third straight defeat for Miami and the fourth in five games, with the first loss of that stretch coming in Chicago.
"We're still a confident bunch," said LeBron James, 2 for 15 from 3-point range in the last five games. "We know it's a tough stretch for us right now. We lost three games in a row, but I feel like all it takes is one win."
A victory over the Bulls (42-18) would also help show they can contend with some of the league's elite. The Heat, who are opening a six-game homestand, are 1-8 against the NBA's top five teams, including 0-2 versus the Bulls.
"We got to make a stand on Sunday against a team that is gaining confidence," coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Bulls, 17-9 against teams over .500, have moved percentage points ahead of Miami for second place in the East.
When the Heat visited the United Center on Feb. 24, Derrick Rose, one of the top MVP candidates along with James, had a team-high 26 points and Luol Deng scored 20 - including a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 16 seconds left - in Chicago's 93-89 win.
Dwayne Wade had 34 points in that game and James finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds, but Chris Bosh missed 17 of 18 shots and scored just seven.
Chicago won the first meeting 99-96 on Jan. 15 behind Rose's 34 points. Wade scored 33 for the Heat, who played without James (sprained ankle).
The Bulls were without Joakim Noah (right thumb), their top rebounder at 11.7 per game and a longtime adversary of James.
Despite missing Noah for one of the games in this series, Chicago has dominated the boards, outrebounding the Heat 95-69. The Bulls are second in the league in rebounding at 44.4 per game, and Miami is 3-8 when allowing a team to grab 45 boards.
Chicago, concluding a five-game road trip, outrebounded Dwight Howard and the Magic 50-30 in Friday's 89-81 win in Orlando.
Rose scored 24 points and Deng added 16 for the Bulls, who bounced back from Wednesday's discouraging 83-80 loss to Atlanta, when they blew a 19-point lead.
"Just staying solid," Rose said of Chicago's effort. "That was the biggest thing. When we got the lead, we just wanted to keep it."
The Bulls did that by keeping the defensive pressure on the Magic and forcing them to take bad shots. Chicago, second in scoring defense at 91.9 points per game, held Orlando to its fewest points in a month.
The Heat have scored 96 or fewer in three straight and are 10-15 when failing to surpass that mark. The Bulls are 38-4 when holding opponents to 96 points or less.
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