Posted May 17 2011 1:48PM
CHICAGO -- One game has made them weary. Not from the grind. From the noise. The talk about the Bulls being a nightmare matchup for Miami. The talk of the Bulls' defense, suddenly dethroning the 1985 Chicago Bears. The talk about the Eastern Conference finals being over, even though it has just begun.
They are tired of all the Bull.
"One game," said LeBron James, through clenched teeth.
"One game," said Dwyane Wade.
Their legs and egos don't hurt as much as their ears. And yet, the questions and doubts and perceptions from the outside will only snowball in May unless LeBron and Wade bring their best. At the same time. Not just in Game 2, but in every game from here.
That's because the Bulls are a tough matchup for the Heat, based on four straight wins, including the regular season. And the Chicago defense did make Wade and James disappear when it counted in Game 1. And for the first time this postseason, the Heat find themselves trailing in a series.
The perception of pending doom can quickly become reality for the Heat if LeBron and Wade vanish again for any reasonable stretch. Two All-Stars who averaged 25 points each in the first two rounds of the playoffs didn't even reach 20 apiece in Game 1. Two unselfish players who bonded quickly after a rough November resorted to one-on-one drills in the fourth quarter. Two players known for their fluid fast breaks and highlight finishes didn't provide a single memorable moment in Game 1. Unless you count the time when Wade ate what Taj Gibson fed him.
It was cute when Wade tweeted about being dunked on in a Nerf hoop by his son Zaire, who then screamed "Gibson." But what happened next was even more demoralizing for Dad: Zaire began giving basketball tips.
"I told him I think I've done alright so far," Wade said.
Aside from trying to recapture the swagger that swelled from the Boston series, Wade and LeBron are out to recover their pride. That's what great players value most, the confidence that made them great in the first place. Say what you will about Miami's lack of rebounding and poor production from the bench. Had Wade and LeBron delivered their usual performance, maybe their ears aren't hurting right now.
Which odds will you choose for Game 2? That the Bulls will match the effort and performance of Game 1, unquestionably their best of the entire postseason? Or that Wade and LeBron will go to the free-throw line only eight times total, or combine for 11 second-half points, or shoot 12-for-32 again?
Here's LeBron: "We're going to come out and play our games. That game got away from us."
Wade scored 34 and 33 points in two of three games in the regular season against the Bulls' defense. Meaning, the Bulls don't cause him as much grief as the noise suggests. LeBron? He had five baskets in Game 1, after getting that many in the fourth quarter of the closeout game against Boston. Meaning, LeBron didn't age overnight.
Really: Has Chicago re-invented the art of defense? (No. This is the same team that couldn't stop the Hawks' Jeff Teague.) Are the Bulls doing anything defensively that Wade and LeBron haven't seen all season? (Unlikely, maybe just doing it better, if for only one game.)
"You see some of the mistakes you made and just come back with a better plan," LeBron said.
"We will. I'm not worried about ourselves, D-Wade and myself."
So much of what the Heat does, and whether they win, falls on these two players, more than any two players on one contender since Kobe and Shaq were together in L.A. The difference? Neither Wade nor LeBron play center or point guard, the two most important positions on the floor. They must cover for Miami's weaknesses, with both assuming some of the point guard duties and LeBron often guarding all five positions. That's what makes these two players unique. They cram so much responsibility in every game, to the point where you wonder if they can continue.
But, when asked about the stress and burden of the season and whether it's starting to take its toll, Wade quickly replied: "Not even."
What is taking its toll on Wade and LeBron is the chatter. You can sense it in their demeanor with the press, their expressions and their body language. If the Game 1 loss wasn't bad enough, two days of answering for it might be worse. Especially when Zaire Wade is giving advice.
"I told him 'I'm good, you don't have to do that.' You gotta love your kid, it made me laugh," Wade said.
So, what can we expect in Game 2? More rebounds from the Bulls? Or two rebound peformances from Wade and LeBron? The last time LeBron was held to 15 points -- in Game 3 against the Celtics -- he responded with 35 points and 14 rebounds the next game. When Wade battled migraine symptoms and managed only 14 against the Sixers in Game 2 of that series, he rallied with 32 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists the very next game.
"We know what we can do," said LeBron.
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