MIAMI (AP) -Ever the motivator, Miami coach Pat Riley went into the locker room Saturday and challenged his players to spar.
He had no takers. Still, that doesn't mean there's no fight left in the Heat - even as they face a challenge significantly more daunting than boxing their 62-year-old patriarch.
The Chicago Bulls have the defending NBA champions on the cusp of elimination, and will take a 3-0 lead into Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Sunday afternoon. No team has ever rallied from three games down to win an NBA series; only eight of the previous 78 teams in this situation have managed to even force a sixth game.
Somehow, though, the Heat still have hope.
``No matter what, you always believe. You're always confident,'' Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. ``It just takes one game, one minute, to change something. And anything can change. Anything can happen. We won two series last year winning four games in a row. We made history doing both, and for us to win this series, we have to make history again.''
True, the Heat did win four straight to oust New Jersey and then Dallas in the finals a year ago. And although that team was healthier and more in synch than the current Miami club - which was decimated all year by injuries, first to Jason Williams, then Shaquille O'Neal and later Wade - Chicago is still leery of the Heat's comeback potential.
``There's no reason to think we can just relax and go back to Chicago,'' Bulls guard Ben Gordon said. ``You never know what happens. Somebody can get hurt or something, God forbid. You have to approach every game and try to win. We've shown we can beat this team three times. We have to go out there and try to beat them a fourth time.''
The Heat spent most of the past week saying they wouldn't be in trouble until they lost one game at home.
Now, of course, that's happened - and Miami cannot deny that the current situation is, at best, grim.
``If we can get a win, we feel we can be right back in this series,'' Miami forward Antoine Walker said. ``I know if we get one, it'll get a little interesting.''
While Miami worked out at its home arena, the Bulls canceled practice Saturday, instead holding a 45-minute meeting at their posh hotel. Some players planned on watching Detroit - their Central Division rivals - play at Orlando later in the afternoon, knowing that the winner of the Chicago-Miami series will meet the winner of the Pistons-Magic tilt in the second round.
``Of course we're going to be watching,'' Chicago center Ben Wallace, the former Pistons standout, said with a wry smile. ``We're basketball fans.''
The Bulls won 104-96 in Miami on Friday night, putting themselves in position to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1998, when Chicago won their sixth and final championship in the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Phil Jackson era.
Luol Deng (27.7 points per game in the series) and Gordon (26.0 ppg) have been constant headaches for Miami, and Kirk Hinrich had his best effort of the series with a 22-point showing in Game 3. And no matter what defensive combination the Heat try, they haven't been able to slow the Bulls.
``This series is long from over,'' Hinrich said. ``We still have to win one game.''
Game 5, if necessary, would be Tuesday in Chicago. But the Bulls believe they can send the defending champs out in sweep style.
``We've got to battle human nature right now, which would be to say 'Well, let's just relax. We got one down here. We'll get one when we get back home,''' Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. ``We have to battle that. We put ourselves in a great spot. We know the way that the other series is going and we're looking at it as an important game and another step for us.''
It's an important game for Miami as well. A real important game.
No one was willing to address it Saturday, but a loss Sunday could usher in an era of many changes. Riley is noncommittal about his future. Many players will be free agents or could choose not to return. Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning may consider retirement.
Those talks, Riley said, are for another day. He still believes, and knows his players do, too.
``If I were them, I would not want us to win one game,'' Riley said. ``Everything can change with one win.''

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