Heat Looking for Hotness

Nearly an hour after Thursday's practice ended, Dwyane Wade was still working.

With all his Miami Heat teammates already gone for the day, Wade honed his crossover dribble. Made hard cuts to test his sore knee. Took plenty of pull-up jumpers, some while getting fouled by assistant coach Erik Spoelstra, others without contact.

Oddsmakers have made Miami -5.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 185.5 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 61% of bets for this game have been placed on Chicago +5.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Clearly, the MVP of last season's finals hasn't quit.

``It's still the playoffs,'' Wade said afterward, sweat rolling off him. ``It's still a series. First team to four.''

And the Chicago Bulls are only halfway there, after winning the first two games of this Eastern Conference first-round series on their home floor. No team in NBA history has rallied from an 0-3 deficit.

Going into Friday night's Game 3, the defending champion Heat hardly sounded worried.

``Just got to play,'' Heat center Shaquille O'Neal said. ``There isn't anything really to talk about. We know what we've got to do. We've been talking about it until we're blue in the face. Now we've just got to go out and do it. It's a simple game. Just go out and do what you're supposed to do. Do that, and the outcome is usually favorable.''

Game 4 is Sunday, and if all goes to Miami's plan, it'll be knotted at two games apiece heading back to Chicago. Naturally, the Bulls - seeking their first series win since the 1998 finals, Michael Jordan's sixth title - envision a different scenario.

``This is what you work for,'' said Chicago forward P.J. Brown, a former Heat player. ``This is what you strive for the whole season. You want to be in this position. Homecourt advantage means so much. We've taken care of our business so far. We've done what we're supposed to do. We'll go down to Miami and we'll see if we can steal one there.''

Chicago is teeming with confidence - and deservedly so - after winning the first two games of the series, including an 18-point romp Tuesday in Game 2.

The Bulls have outrebounded Miami by 10.5 per game, connected on nearly half their shot attempts in the first two games and have outscored the Heat 35-9 in fast-break points. And with the luxury of a two-game lead, Chicago isn't feeling any pressure, either.

``We're just trying to go down and win a road game,'' Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. ``If we can't, we'll do the same thing the next game.''

The younger Bulls have been quicker, forcing 33 turnovers so far in the series, and know they can win in Miami - their 108-66 romp on opening night showed that. Still, they're not infallible in South Florida, considering their second visit this season resulted in a 103-70 Heat win that came when Wade was sidelined by a dislocated left shoulder.

``You can lose four in a row and it's happened to us before,'' Bulls guard Ben Gordon said. ``We don't want a repeat of that.''

Since the NBA went to a best-of-seven format in the first round in 2003, 20 teams have won the first two games of the series at home.

Only one - the Bulls in 2005, against Washington - hasn't advanced to the second round. After taking that 2-0 lead against the Wizards, Chicago dropped the next four games.

But this Chicago team was so much younger then. Gordon - who had 27 points in Game 2 - was a rookie. Kirk Hinrich was a second-year player. Luol Deng, who's averaging 29.5 points and is enjoying a breakout series so far, was a rookie who turned 20 a week before that series with the Wizards started.

``They're not the Baby Bulls anymore,'' Heat coach Pat Riley said. ``They're not. They're a hardened, veteran team now at the right ages - with talent.''

They're rolling, too, while the Heat are slumping at the worst possible time.

Since Wade returned from his shoulder injury, Miami is 2-6 (including a loss at Orlando in the meaningless regular-season finale, a game where Wade and O'Neal did not play). During the 2006 postseason, Wade averaged 28.4 points; so far in this series, he's averaging 21 points and has only five rebounds in the two games, none on the offensive end.

Now, the Heat hope being home - where they were 11-1 during last season's playoffs - could spark a comeback.

``You're more focused, more in tune, more comfortable,'' Wade said. ``That's not the answer to winning ball games, just being at home. We have to play a lot better.''

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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