Heat appears to be treading water
Coach Tom Thibodeau talks strategy with Rip Hamilton, left, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, right, during Thursday's game against the Heat at the United Center. The Bulls won 96-86 in overtime.
Heading into Thursday's contest, Miami was a mediocre 12-9 since March 2 and won just three of its previous 10 road games.
So people are asking if the Heat is legitimately struggling or if the team is just planning to turn it on for the playoffs.
"We know we're getting better. We're getting closer. We're not there yet," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters in Miami. "Maybe what we need to go through as a group to get over this hump is to face this adversity right now."
Spoelstra pointed out that the Heat didn't finish the regular season well in 2006, when it won the NBA title behind Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal.
"We're not a team that says, 'OK, we can cruise these last couple of weeks and then we can turn it up in the playoffs,'" LeBron James said. "You build your habits in the regular season. I know that."
"I don't say, 'Oh, we'll be fine. We made the Finals last year,'" added Chris Bosh. "You kind of get in trouble doing that. I just think we have to continue to have urgency, think about what we need to do, where we need to get better and work on it the next game."
The importance of a strong first quarter is one of coach Tom Thibodeau many constant reminders for the Bulls.
But the second quarter has also become a benchmark for the Bulls, particularly when the second unit checks in and turns up the defense.
Heading into Thursday's action, the Bulls held their opponent to 20 points or less in the second quarter 27 times in 58 games.
They have compiled a 23-4 record this season when that happens.
"That's what the 'Bench Mob' does in the second quarter," Kyle Korver said. "Our second quarters have been good all season. We feel like we come in with a lot of energy. We've got Taj (Gibson) and Omer (Asik) back there, two of the best defensive big men in the league."
The Bulls held Miami to 19 points in Thursday's second quarter, but were outscored 19-17.
Barkley picks Bulls:
NBA analyst Charles Barkley gave the Bulls a plug as the team most likely to win the Eastern Conference.
"People talk about how (Miami) played the Bulls last year. If you go back and look at those games (in the conference finals), every one of those games was tied with two minutes to go," Barkley said during an appearance on WMVP's "The Waddle and Silvy Show.
"If Rip Hamilton can play anything like he played (Tuesday against New York), I think the Bulls have a really good chance against the Heat. I do. I like that team. I think the Bulls are better."
Wade reverses course:
Heat guard Dwyane Wade says money is not his motivation for the London Games this summer. In a statement Thursday, Wade said, "I do not want to be paid to go to the Olympics."
Wade had been quoted Wednesday saying he thinks "guys should be compensated" for playing over the summer and noted the schedule demands of being an Olympian.
Tickets for the first two rounds of the playoffs go on sale today at 11 a.m. at TicketMaster outlets and online at bulls.com. ... Miami made a late change to its starting lineup, going with Udonis Haslem instead of newcomer Ronny Turiaf at center. Turiaf recently replaced Joel Anthony as the Heat's starting center.
•The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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