Miami returned to the playoffs for the third time in five seasons, in a rematch of its first-ever playoff appearance against the Chicago Bulls. A formidable task for Miami, having to face the team that collected the most wins (72) in NBA history during the regular season. Miami succumbed in three straight games in the best-of-five series. Miami made the playoffs in dramatic fashion, getting a late-season win over Charlotte, its rival for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The HEAT followed that up with a win over the Milwaukee Bucks on the second-to-last game of the season to officially eliminate the Hornets and clinch the final spot.
FIRST ROUND (CHICAGO-3, MIAMI-0)
Game 1 - Apr. 26 (Chicago 102, Miami 85): Game One gave the HEAT reason for optimism with Miami giving Chicago a run for its money in the first half, taking a 48-45 halftime lead before
eventually losing, 102-85, on Friday, April 26, in Chicago. The HEAT did it early behind the dominating play of Tim Hardaway. He scored 26 of his team-high 30 points in the first half, easily shredding the Bulls defense. Miami shot 52.5 percent (21-40) and made 8-13 from long range, including five treys by Hardaway. But what Miami did right in the first half, it did wrong after halftime — managing just 13 third-quarter points, and 31 total in the second half. Chicago forced eight of Miami's all-time playoff high 28 turnovers in the quarter and allowed just four Miami field goals. Miami ran out of ammunition in the fourth quarter, with three HEAT players — Alonzo Mourning, Kurt Thomas and Chris Gatling — fouling out and Coach Pat Riley earning a late ejection for voicing his displeasure. Miami compiled 32 personal fouls — including several committed on Michael Jordan, who led all scorers with 35 points (including 9-12 at the foul line). Toni Kukoc added 21 points for Chicago.
Game 2 - Apr. 28 (Chicago 106, Miami 75): Michael Jordan
again took command in Game Two, posting 29 points to lead his Bulls to a 106-75 rout on Sunday, April 28, at the United Center. Miami was buried under 63 Chicago first-half points — and a 25-point Bulls' halftime lead — and was unable to recover in its 31-point loss. Miami, as in Game One, fell into early foul trouble, watching a trio of players — Alonzo Mourning, Rex Chapman and Tony Smith — collect three fouls apiece before halftime. Miami got 29 personals in all (compared to 32 a game earlier), but the HEAT's difficulties were exacerbated by a stingy Bulls defense that limited Miami to 35.4 percent shooting from the field and just 6-20 from three-point range. Miami's entire starting corps posted just 34 points (Kurt Thomas and Walt Williams went scoreless) and had 12 of the team's 21 turnovers.
And the HEAT were just 23 of 36 from the foul line (63.9%) and were outboarded, 45-37. Scottie Pippen added 24 points for the Bulls. Miami's leading scorer was Sasha Danilovic, who had 15 points in just 23 minutes off the bench. Mourning weighed in with 14 points and eight rebounds, and Rex Chapman finished with 11 points.
Game 3 - May 1 (Chicago 112, Miami 91): A sellout home crowd of 15,200 energized the HEAT early in Game Three on Wednesday, May 1, but the lift lasted just minutes. Chicago took
the lead for good midway through the first quarter and coasted to a 112-91 victory to eliminate the HEAT from further playoff contention. Chicago would eventually construct a 31-point lead behind hot 57 percent shooting in the first half (and 50 percent for the game) and the steady offense of Michael Jordan (26 points) and the all-around prowess of Scottie Pippen — who posted his 17th career triple-double in collecting 22 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. Both players provided enough firepower to negate a 30-point, eight-rebound effort by Alonzo Mourning.