Despite blowout, Heat not taking Bulls lightly

Despite blowout, Heat not taking Bulls lightly
February 22, 2013, 12:30 am
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Tony Andracki

The Heat haven't been playing too many competitive games lately.

During its recent nine-game winning streak, Miami has won by an average of 12.6 points, which was helped by a 19-point win over the Bulls Thursday night at the United Center.

The Bulls turned the ball over 27 times and shot just 37.3 percent from the field as they fell to eight games behind the top-seeded Heat in the Eastern Conference standings. 

But the Heat aren't going to get in the habit of overlooking the Bulls -- or any team in the East, for that matter.

"Look, this team is going through some adversity right now," Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. "[Kirk] Hinrich being out definitely affected them. Not having [Derrick] Rose. The next time we play them, that will likely be a different-looking team.

"Our expectations are high. To play for a title, you have to win different ways, but you have to play at an elite level. There's no question about it."

The last time the two teams squared off -- in Miami Jan. 4 -- the Bulls out-rebounded the Heat by 20. Thursday, Miami still got out-rebounded, but only by three (39-36).

[RELATED: Wade says Bulls a 'measuring stick' for Heat]

Spoelstra credited that to the "competitive commitment" of his team.

"You gotta be willing to get into that fight," he said. "You can't be a no-show. We talk about it as one of the keys -- 'Don't be a no-show.' If you're not showing up and being there for your teammate, we'll get embarrassed like we did the last time. They have that ability. 

"If you're not absolutely focused on getting into that battle, they can absoltuely annihilate you on the glass, like they did [last time]. They still had times where they pounded us, but we were more competitive on the glass."

The Bulls sit in fifth place in the East, a game-and-a-half behind Brooklyn for the fourth seed. The Knicks and Pacers fill out the second and third slots, respectively.

Miami has already lost to the Bulls at home -- where the Heat are a sparkling 23-3 -- and is 0-4 to the Knicks and Pacers combined.

The Heat have had a target on their back all season and that won't be changing with the playoff race heating up in the season's second half. When you're the defending champs, everybody is gunning for you.

"The second half of the season will tell you a lot," Dwyane Wade said. "Obviously, a team like Chicago is a big contender for us like the Knicks and the Pacers. There's a lot of competition. Boston is always going to be there. Whenever they play us, they play out of their minds. We have a lot of competition in the East, especially at the top. 

"You see young teams like Toronto, who is getting better throughout the year. You see other teams that when you get in the playoffs, you never know. For us, whoever we match up with in the playoffs, we have to face them like we face anybody, no matter if it's first round or if we're fortunate enough to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

"We have to face all the teams the same that are trying to get to where we're trying to get to."

LeBron James and Chris Bosh -- the other two components of the "Big Three" -- were on the same page as Wade following the win over the Bulls.

"Whoever makes the playoffs," James said. "Top eight. If we don't come to play, everybody is a contender and everyone has a shot at beating us. Once the playoffs start, no matter what record you have, it's just seeding. Everyone's record goes back to 0-0 and you have to be the best out of seven."

"Everybody [is a contender]," Bosh echoed. "We don't single out just one team. We take everybody. Ever since the season started, we don't have that luxury to pick and choose who we play against. We have to bring it against everybody. There are no nights off with this team. I think over the course of 50 games, we've become a lot more mentally tough and it's translated to the court."

"We all had a vision of how this team was going to operate together, but there is no limit," Bosh continued. "We can continue to get better. We can continue to play better together. Our defense can continue to improve. If we want to win in the postseason, it's going to have to."