If the Heat thought it would be smooth sailing now that the Celtics have been put to rest, it got a painful injection of reality serum Sunday night.
Chicago gave Miami a taste of the smothering defense that propelled the Bulls to the league’s best overall record.
This spry Bulls squad is a different animal than the Celtics.
Unlike a Boston team that relied heavily on guile and veteran savvy, Chicago actually has the athletes that can go dunk-for-dunk with the Heat, as Taj Gibson proved on two separate occasions.
You have to wonder if Miami’s players were perhaps just a bit too confident.
In that game, Miami had a two-game series lead and was basically playing with house money, knowing that it only needed to win one of the two games in Boston. It showed in their effort.
Similarly, last night was not exactly a must-win game for the Heat, as they get a second chance on Wednesday once Oprah vacates the premises.
So how worried should Miami be?
Yes, there were troubling signs.
The Heat got outmuscled, outrebounded and outworked.
Miami looked equally inept on offense and defense, losing the rebounding battle by 12 and conceding more than a hundred points for the first time this postseason.
Chris Bosh was three points short of scoring more than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined, which strays far from any successful blueprint.
Considering how many issues arose last night, a blowout loss might be exactly what this team needs. It makes the players and coaches realize that more than small tweaks are necessary.
NO MORE SMALL BALL
First and foremost, Erik Spoelstra has to realize that a small lineup just isn’t going to cut it against this lanky Bulls side.
You can get away with playing small against creaky-kneed Celtics big men like Jermaine O’Neal and Kevin Garnett, but not against Joakim Noah and Omer Asik.
Too often Bulls big men played volleyball with missed shots, keeping possessions alive.
For a smaller lineup to work, James and Wade have to rebound effectively and not leak out for fast-break opportunities, which in a sense defeats the point of going small in the first place.
Similarly, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to take Erick Dampier’s knees out of storage and reinsert him in the starting lineup.
His size and physicality is sorely needed. Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire clearly don't matchup well with the Bulls centers.
There’s a reason the Bulls pulled down 19 offensive rebounds, leading to 31 second-chance points.
THE NOT SO DYNAMIC DUO
With the Heat, all roads lead to James and Wade.
The two stars quickly realized that points won’t be as easy to come by as they were against the Celtics.
It is one thing to be defended by a 35-year-old Ray Allen and a 33-year-old Paul Pierce, two players who simply aren’t in the same athletic ballpark as James and Wade.
The Bulls perimeter defenders, on the other hand, are far more of a nuisance.
In game one, the Bulls two 26-year-olds, Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer, displayed the kind of smothering defense James and Wade will have to get used to.
Brewer and Deng were relentless in their dogged defensive approach, constantly reaching in, knocking away any casual dribble, which forced a handful of turnovers and off-balance shots.
These Bulls take defensive challenges as personally as anyone, and have the athleticism and back line support to play James and Wade chest-to-chest.
Nearly every jump shot was contested, which led to James and Wade shooting a combined 4-for-16 on perimeter shots.
For Miami to win this series, James and Wade can’t combine to score 33 points again, they’ll each have to get close to that number.
If that doesn’t happen, it won’t matter how many points Bosh puts up.
Keep in mind that if James and Wade had combined to score 52 points, their playoff average, Miami would have reached 101 points, or two fewer than the Bulls.
For this to happen, the two will have to play off of one another effectively; solo acts won't work.
The Bulls pack the paint as well as anyone, so the two will have to be decisive: either attack the rim with force and draw fouls, or take a rhythm jump shot.
Wade especially cannot afford to continue taking highly contested fade-away jumpers against these defenders.
It may also be time to dust off the James-Wade pick and roll, a play that Spoelstra has cryptically alluded to in the past as something he is keeping up his sleeve for the most dire situations.
Considering what we saw last night, game two certainly fits the description
PRESSURE IS ON
For whatever reason, this Heat team seems to need a bit of added pressure to play at its peak level.
The Heat looked like a completely different group in game four against the Celtics, a fixture that carried far more significance coming off a game three loss.
Come Wednesday, we will see if the Heat can refocus and put forth the type of performance we became accustomed to seeing last round.
If they don’t, then the Heat could very well find itself in the same 2-0 hole Boston was in.
And we all know how that ended.