MIAMI – Dwyane Wade is limping around in obvious pain. LeBron James shooting percentage is down. Shane Battier and Ray Allen have struggled to get anything going from three-point range.
The Eastern Conference semifinals have been far from perfect for the Miami Heat.
And the reigning NBA champions are now in absolute control of this series nonetheless.
Barely a week ago, there was so much talk about how the Chicago Bulls had Miamis number like no other team. That seems long forgotten now, after three straight wins – by an average of 23.3 points – have the Heat one win away from returning to the East finals. Up 3-1 in the series, the Heat will try to close out the Bulls in Game 5 at Miami tonight.
You have to have a high-character team, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Tuesday, a few hours after his team returned from Chicago after an 88-65 rout in Game 4 of the suddenly one-sided series. You have to have a team thats built strong habits ... not to take games for granted. Our guys have built up habits. They also have built up perspective that boy, these close-out games have been the toughest ones.
When Miami gets a chance to finish off an opponent, it typically doesnt waste any time. Since James, Wade and Chris Bosh joined up, the Heat are 8-2 in games where they can clinch a series, winning each of their last five by double figures.
Given the way this series is going, its not hard to envision Wednesday ending the same way.
Got to take care of business, Bosh said.
The Bulls outscored the Heat in Game 1, tried to outmuscle them in Games 2 and 3, and then simply looked outmanned in Game 4. Derrick Rose has been gone all season, Kirk Hinrich hasnt played since logging 60 minutes in Chicagos triple-overtime Game 4 against Brooklyn in the opening round and Luol Deng is still dealing with the effects of a nasty bout of illness.
Wednesday, the Bulls shot just under 26 percent, scored nine in the third quarter.
Nobody said this was going to be easy, Nate Robinson said. Were professionals for a reason. Well go back to the drawing board and figure it out.
Were still alive. Theres still basketball to be played, and weve got to fight, said Bulls center Joakim Noah.