"We are going to have a better game than we had the last game," said coach Erik Spoelstra after Miami practiced Sunday on the eve of Game 4 of its Eastern semifinal here. It was the same message that Spoelstra had sent Friday after the Heat survived Game 3 with a 104-94 win to take a 2-1 lead over Chicago.
"It was very competitive in the fourth quarter," he said. "We had to find a little scrap, claw, just to get that victory, as we always have to typically against Chicago. But we left that game thinking that we're going to have to play a little better. More of it was attention to detail and focus, and we'll hopefully bring that tomorrow."
In spite of the absences of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls have been able to stay relevant -- to steal Game 1 and stay within four points in the final three minutes of Game 3 -- by playing with a focused sense of desperation rarely seen in the NBA. At the same time, the Bulls have maxed out their options. How much more can they ask of Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli?
Games 1 and 3 were played on Chicago's terms. The Heat were sounding as if they'd absorbed enough punishment and were figuring out how to deal it out. For them it isn't so much about aggressiveness or intensity as it is about execution.
"They did a good job of keeping us out of the paint," Spoelstra said. "We only had 20 in the paint, our ratio of our attacks to our jumpers was not our normal success ratio, but they stepped up their defense and we have to do a better job with our spacing and getting into our offense earlier."
The Heat will be exploring ways to further involve Dwyane Wade, who had no interest in talking about his sore right knee after engaging in practice Sunday. Wade was limited to 10 points on seven shots in Game 3. Some of those attempts went to Chris Bosh (20 points to go with 19 rebounds) and Norris Cole (18 points on seven shots), but Wade was anticipating bigger numbers Monday.
"Obviously I'm looking for me to have more opportunities," said Wade, who made his only shot of the opening half in Game 3. "I wouldn't bet that I would shoot seven shots a game, but I can't say that I won't.
"In the first half, I was counting the amount of minutes I was playing, and I didn't get the opportunity to be aggressive. I'm not overly concerned about that. At the end of the day, it's about winning. If I was worried about my numbers, I wouldn't be here at this position. My team needs me to do more. Obviously I'm looking for opportunities, and it changes from game to game.
"Now if I shoot 5-for-17, then that's a different conversation. You got to look at my touches at the end of the day, and when I had the opportunity. Last game wasn't run through me. That's a testament to Norris Cole being aggressive when he came in, and (we) obviously ran a lot through LeBron (James)."
If the Heat are controlling the pacing and spacing of Game 4, they'll be able to feed Wade in the post more often. That will be one big sign that they are on their way.
"That's one of his biggest weapons for us, his playing inside and out of the post," Spoelstra said of Wade. "We're an inadvertent post-up team. We post up perimeter players probably more than we post up our bigs.
"When you play a defensive team like this, you don't know who's going to get the open look. You have to be aggressive and force action and the ball has to move. Everybody else becomes a recipient of that. (Wade) often times started that chain reaction for us. He was unselfish enough and poised enough to move the ball and our point guards, Norris and Mario, became recipients. And they were moving the ball all the same off of secondary action. If Dwyane is coming in here trying to score 40 a night, that doesn't allow those things to happen. But he is also aggressive enough that if you let up the count under coverage, he's going to make you pay for that."
It's unusual to think of the Heat as a team of upside, but that's where they stand with this opportunity to take a 3-1 lead on their way to closing out Chicago in five games. Not only do they want to be dictating the terms against the most physically aggressive team in the playoffs, but they also want to avoid unnecessary exposure to the Bulls. Their approach was unspoken and unmistakeable: The sooner they move on, the better.