Bulls-Heat: 'It's a different ballgame'

Carlos Boozer said the Bulls need to things a possession at a time against the Heat. Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

MIAMI -- Taj Gibson spoke for his entire team late Saturday night while discussing the Chicago Bulls' upcoming Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat.

"It's just a different ballgame," he said after the Bulls eliminated the Brooklyn Nets in seven games. "It's a different ballgame. We just went to battle with a great rebounding team. Now we got to go battle with another great offensive team. This is different. That's our rivalry. Words can't express how bad, how hard we just want to beat them. But we have to just focus. We understand that it's the playoffs now. Every game is going to be a grind, and we're going to be ready."

Gibson's perspective honestly is refreshing.

This isn't just another series for the Bulls. This isn't just another step on the trek to a championship. This is a series against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. This is another chance to earn respect. An opportunity to prove that Gibson and his teammates can win on the biggest of stages. The Bulls snapped the Heat's 27-game winning streak in late March, but they know this is different. They know that very few fans and pundits are giving them a chance to compete against the defending champions, but they don't care. The Bulls have thrived this season when people have written them off. They enjoy playing the role of the underdog and they want to prove they can still win despite all the injuries and illnesses they continue to endure.

They also want to prove to James and Wade that they belong in the conversation of elite teams in the league. The Heat stars don't believe there's a rivalry with the Bulls.

"For me, my only rival right now is Boston," James said last summer, noting that the Heat had played the Bulls only once in the playoffs. "I played those guys over and over and over and over each and every year no matter what city I've been in. Rivalries start when you play teams over and over. Like in my early days in Cleveland, Washington was my rival. I played them two years in a row in the postseason. Every game in the regular season was heated. We can see that happening with a lot of teams [now], but you don't know."

James and Wade respect the way that the Bulls play, but don't seem to feel as if the Bulls are on their level. That's not the feeling within Tom Thibodeau's locker room. The Bulls believe they belong in Miami's realm and now have a chance to prove it.

"For us, we split during the year so we know how they play, they know how we play," Bulls guard Nate Robinson said. "We're just ready to get it going. Two teams playing as hard as they can. We're trying to get to the next round -- both teams -- so it's going to be a dogfight and we're ready for it."

The Bulls are going to need Robinson's feistiness, along with Jimmy Butler's defensive acumen, to challenge the Heat in this series. With Luol Deng (illness) and Kirk Hinrich (calf) doubtful for Game 1, the Bulls are going to have to rely on this duo to hold its own. Robinson has to be able to knock down shots and try to get his teammates into a better rhythm offensively, while Butler will likely be faced with the unenviable task of chasing around James for 48 minutes. It's a challenge that both players won't back down from and speaks to the attitude of the team as a whole.

The Bulls know they don't have as much talent as the Heat, but they don't care. They believe that their teamwork and ability to pick one another up when somebody goes down will help bridge the gap. The biggest key for the Bulls is not to be overwhelmed by the stage and the fact that they head into this series still undermanned.

"Just taking it a possession at a time," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "They're the champs, they're a very good team, a very talented group of guys, they've been resting for I don't know how long. They play very well at home, so for us we got to take it one possession at a time, one quarter at a time, don't get too far ahead of ourselves no matter what the situation is. You see how our group is -- we stay together. We're a group and team that no matter what happens we stay together."