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updated: 5/20/2011 4:40 PM

Asik's role rising in the playoffs

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  • Bulls players say they're not surprised by the growth and presence of center Omer Asik in the playoffs. He has become the team's best basket protector in the postseason and his size has bothered Miami.

      Bulls players say they're not surprised by the growth and presence of center Omer Asik in the playoffs. He has become the team's best basket protector in the postseason and his size has bothered Miami.
    Associated Press

  • Miami Heat small forward LeBron James launches a 3-pointer over Bulls center Omer Asik during Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals at the United Center Wednesday. Game 3 is Sunday, and Asik has started every fourth quarter in this series.

      Miami Heat small forward LeBron James launches a 3-pointer over Bulls center Omer Asik during Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals at the United Center Wednesday. Game 3 is Sunday, and Asik has started every fourth quarter in this series.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

Back in training camp, Omer Asik knew the English language, but he struggled with the dialect spoken inside the Berto Center.

Especially lines spoken by defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau.

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"This was hard on him at first. He was always screaming at him," teammate Ronnie Brewer said of the rookie center from Turkey. "(Thibodeau) was saying different things like 'ice' and different play calls we have defensively. (Asik) wasn't catching on as fast as a lot of guys would."

Seven months later, Asik has evolved into a playoff secret weapon. Rarely used early in the postseason, the Istan-Bull has been Thibodeau's best basket protector.

Four games in a row, the Bulls have opened the fourth quarter with Asik, Brewer, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng -- a lineup rarely seen in the regular season.

The Bulls suffered their first loss of that stretch in Game 2 against Miami on Wednesday, but the Heat scored just 2 points in the first 7 minutes of the fourth quarter. LeBron James hit the go-ahead 3-pointer only after Asik left the floor with a bloody chin.

"(Asik) had spurts where he's one of the best players on the court defensively," Brewer said. "To see him go out there and excel in the playoffs, to me, it's not surprising. Omer and Taj, they're doing the things they've been doing all year. It's just on a heightened stage."

With the Bulls back at practice Friday after taking a day off, Thibodeau suggested he was ready to ride that lineup to the final buzzer. He did send Kyle Korver in for Brewer at the 8:53 mark in an unsuccessful effort to create more outside shooting. Joakim Noah replaced Asik.

"Unfortunately, when Omer got the cut, he had to come out of the game," Thibodeau said. "If a group's going well for you and that's the type of game that it was -- defensive, hard-fought, protect-the-lane, up-on-the-board type of game, that fits Omer and Taj extremely well. If there's a need we have, we're going to go to that."

As the Bulls got back to business on Friday, they can take hope in the fact they've limited the Heat to 85 points or less twice, along with an average of 16.5 points in two fourth quarters. The series resumes Sunday night with Game 3 in Miami, where the Heat has not lost this postseason.

"We've got to come with a better effort," Brewer said. "We played hard (in Game 2), but it wasn't hard enough. The way we came out in Game 1, they had to respond. We just didn't match that. They were the first to get on the floor and they got all the hustle plays."

The Bulls can also take confidence in their ability to bounce back from losses. They haven't dropped two games in a row since Feb. 5 and 7 at Golden State and Portland.

"This is going to be a crazy game," Rose said of Sunday's visit to Miami. "They're going to have a lot of confidence, but someway, somehow, we've just got to come up with this win, no matter how we get it. We've just got to have more intensity than them and be way more aggressive."

Since the defense is working well, Thibodeau talked Friday about needing to pick up the pace so the Bulls can get more easy baskets before the Heat's defense is set. Miami did just that during a crucial 10-0 run in the third quarter of Game 2. The Bulls recovered to tie the score, but managed just 2 points during the last 7:15.

"You've got to give their defense credit," Thibodeau said. "We have to execute a lot better. We've got to screen better. We've got to keep the ball moving. We've got to get some easy baskets, too."

• Follow Mike's Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls and check out his All Bull blog at dailyherald.com.

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