Heat players and coaches departed Thursday on their most important business trip since this past June.
And it took no space in the overhead bins for one of the most important things they say they must take with them to Chicago: the assertive, physical, impose-our-will mentality that set the tone in the Game 2 thumping of the Bulls that evened their series at one win apiece.
“I would like to think our game travels,” guard Dwyane Wade said Thursday. “We’re not a team that played one way at home, one way on the road. We played consistent. They did their job. They took home court from us. We’ve got to go up there and try to get it back.”
Center Chris Bosh said the effort the Heat mustered in Wednesday’s 37-point win might not even be enough in Game 3: “We’ve got to turn it up a lot more. They have something to prove now.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra reminded his players that “we’re still in the hole. It doesn’t matter how much we won by [in Game 2]. It doesn’t change the fact we lost the home court.”
The Heat will need to do it at the raucous United Center, where it suffered its only loss in its past 21 road games: a 101-97 setback in late March, a defeat that ended Miami’s 27-game winning streak.
But this was also the same arena where the Heat closed out the Bulls in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and where Miami routed them, 86-67, on Feb. 21 this season.
“I love those atmospheres,” LeBron James said. “It’s a madhouse. Great crowd.”
Wade, a Chicago native, agreed but said: “We’re able to deal with more things [now] because we have dealt with some things individuals or teams haven’t dealt with in professional sports. We’ve had rattled moments, but we feel like we bounce back quickly.”
How do teams on the losing end of blowouts typically respond in the playoffs? According to Elias, 18 teams have lost a nonelimination playoff game by 37 points or more. Those teams are 7-11 in the next game.
Paramount for the Heat on Friday is maintaining the same maniacal defensive intensity and not playing passively on offense.
In Game 2, the Heat amassed the most lopsided advantage in paint points (56-18) of any team in the past 17 NBA postseasons.
Some of those punctuated fast breaks, but also consider this: The Heat had 33 drives to the basket on half-court plays and shot 68 percent on those shots, according to ESPN. Only five times during the regular season did Miami score more paint points than it did Wednesday.
The Heat shot 28 for 34 in the paint — remarkable productivity against a Bulls defense that excels at obstructing opponents’ forays to the basket.
And it also helped that the Heat made 9 of 18 three-pointers after missing 17 of 24 in Game 1.
The Heat scored more points on corner three-pointers than any team since 1996-97, but the Bulls were holding the Heat to 37 percent shooting on those attempts this season heading into Game 2. On Wednesday, the Heat shot nine of those corner threes and made five.
This is encouraging, too: Even in the streak-busting March loss in Chicago, the Heat played aggressively, outscoring Chicago 54-40 in the paint and shooting 48 percent, with James leading the way with 32.
But the Heat that night had no answer for Luol Deng, who scored 28 but is doubtful for Game 3.
The Heat expects continued physicality after a
Game 2 marred by nine technical fouls (six against the Bulls and the most combined in a playoff game since 1995), 51 fouls (including one flagrant, by Chris Andersen) and two ejections (Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson).
“Because of the technicals and ejections, there might be a perception it’s going above and beyond basketball [but] it’s not,” Spoelstra said. “You have two physical teams — Type A personalities.”
Said James: “We have to carry that same aggression, that same attitude into Game 3. … They don’t like us. We don’t like them.”
Bosh insisted Game 2 “wasn’t that physical” but “there was a lot of talking back and forth. I’m sure as the series goes on, it will turn up a lot more. We have to keep our composure no matter what happens.”
Wade has played plenty of games in his hometown but said it still “feels weird in a different way. I can’t really explain it.”