The Heat will need more from Dwyane Wade in Game 2 to overcome the Bulls' stifling defense.
Can the Heat rebound from getting outrebounded?
Game 1 was not just a one-game fluke; the Bulls have dominated the Heat on the boards all season. Game 1 just happened on the biggest stage.
On Sunday, the Bulls collected 41.3 percent of their offensive boards which led to 31 second-chance points. Joakim Noah was a monster underneath the rim and Carlos Boozer was chomping at the bit for putbacks. Chris Bosh missed his box out assignments and LeBron James forgot to seal his man after contesting the shot. The latter two are fixable, the first two aren’t changing any time soon.
Noah and Boozer will always be there, but it’s the Heat’s job to minimize their impact. At practice on Tuesday, Bosh said, “I was always looking for the answers to the rebounding and all that stuff. A dude just told me just go get the ball one day. It made sense.”
While simplicity can be virtuous, Bosh needs to be more cognizant of the big men around the rim and less preoccupied about where the ball is. If there’s a jump ball, Noah will beat him to it every time due to his length.
Dwyane Wade doesn’t get a free pass since he’s 6-foot-4. For a guy who collects six or seven rebounds in his sleep, his Sunday total of three rebounds isn’t sufficient for a team that plays small. The Heat need him to crash the boards like he did against Boston, and refrain from leaking out in the open court when the shot goes up.
It’s true that many of the offensive rebounds from the Bulls were 50-50 balls that ended up in Chicago’s hands, but the Heat’s rebounding deficit is a season-long trend. Every player needs to do better, not just the big men.
Will the Heat find a way to attack the Bulls' defense?
Wired for sound, Erik Spoelstra told his team in a timeout huddle during in Game 1 that they couldn't beat the Bulls with isolation. Yet that's exactly what the Heat tried to do, especially in the second half when they managed only 34 points.
Most nights during the regular season, the Heat can get away with one-on-one play if their first or second options in the half court are denied. They can simply put the ball in the hands of James or Wade and let them create. It won't always produce the most efficient results, but against the vast majority of the league, the Heat can scratch out a living this way.
The Bulls aren't the majority of the league and their defense simply doesn't allow opponents to live off isolation and whimsy. Their top-ranked defense invited this sort of impatience by denying Heat advantages they're used to enjoying.
The mismatch the Heat are accustomed to getting in a high pick-and-roll for James or Wade? It's not such a mismatch when Noah or Taj Gibson are the big men defending. Those cuts and rip screens Wade and James use to catch the ball on the move? It's not so easy when defenders are bumping them and also applying ball pressure on the potential passer.
Chicago proved in Game 1 that nothing is going to come easy in the half court. If the Heat are going to generate points, they'll have to be resourceful. That means working the ball to James Jones on the weakside, continuing to use Bosh in the high post and getting James and Wade the kind of looks they got by working off the ball in the Boston series.
Can the Heat “contain” Derrick Rose again?
Few 28-point performances have been as quiet as Rose’s Game 1 outing. The combination of his perimeter shot selection and highlight reel plays from others allowed him to fall under the radar.
Rose recorded just one field goal attempt at the rim in Game 1, which is only the fifth time he’s been limited to that total in a game this season. On the flipside, he took 15 jump shots beyond 15 feet, hitting seven of those shots. The Heat will take that shot chart any day, considering Rose is a 35.5 percent shooter outside 15 feet and a 60 percent shooter at the rim.
How did they manage it do it? Just as they promised leading up to the game, the Heat mixed up their coverage against the MVP point guard, but they were exceptionally aggressive on traps. This prevented the lightning-quick point guard from turning the corner and penetrating like he typically does, and to that end it was successful.
But there is a downside to that aggressive pick-and-roll coverage: the Heat were thin on the boards. These go hand-in-hand. When Rose launched a jump shot or kicked it out to spot-up jumper, you could find the Heat’s big man who trapped on Rose frantically retreating back to the basket while the ball made its descent to the rim. Not only was that player out of position for the rebound, but it also forced undersized Heat players to pick up Noah and Boozer as they rolled to the rim.
Although Rose recorded 28 points, the Heat can be satisfied with their coverage on him, but maybe not with everyone else. The Heat will roll the dice with 15 jumpers from Rose, but they have to sharpen their coverage once the ball leaves Rose’s hands.
Who gets minutes up front?
One of the common critiques of the Heat headed into the season was that the lack of a reliable, conventional center would ultimately doom them. The Heat responded by posting the NBA's third-best rebounding rate and keeping opponents at bay not with size but with quickness.
Spoelstra doubled down on that strategy in Game 1 against a Bulls' front line of Noah, Boozer, Gibson and Asik. The Heat knew they'd never be able to match Chicago's combination of length and athleticism up front, so they went with a patchwork approach: The undersized but big-hearted Anthony, LeBron with extended minutes at power forward, Jamaal Magloire and Bosh logging time at center.
The Heat's strategy backfired and now they're left with a series of flawed choices. Does Spoelstra activate either Erick Dampier or Zydrunas Ilgauskas, his starting centers for most of the season? They'll unquestionably slow the Heat down -- both on the break and against Derrick Rose -- but would probably help the cause on the boards. Do the Heat stick with Anthony, who had been fantastic for 10 games, but with a shorter leash? Does Magloire see significant minutes again?
The Heat don't need to be perfect on Wednesday night at the 5, but they do need to tread water. In Game 1, they were swamped and there are no easy or satisfying answers for Spoelstra against the unit in the league who can most exploit this weakness.
How much of the load can James and Wade carry?
There's no perfect correlation, but when you see that James and Wade combined for only 10 shots at the rim and just four visits to the line, it's a pretty grim indicator.
We know that, for the Heat to win Game 2, James and Wade need to get back on the attack, but they also have to do even more. That was the cost of assembling a top-heavy roster in Miami -- the knowledge that, to beat the very best competition, James and Wade would have to be otherworldly.
If the Heat are going to survive the rebounding battle, Wade will have to match or exceed the 7.6 rebounds per game he gobbled up in the first two rounds. If they're going to get anything done in the half court, James will need to be playmaker extraordinaire, exploiting all that defensive attention to create opportunities for teammates. At the same time, they can't engage in heroball. Aggressiveness doesn't mean impatience, and there was far too much freelancing in Game 1.
Both guys will have to be killers on the defensive side of the ball. Chances are the Heat will be forced to go with some slower centers, a byproduct of which will be more pressure on whoever is guarding Rose -- and Wade and James continue to be the best candidates for that assignment. When they're not walling off Rose, they'll need to apply every ounce of their energy and athleticism toward smart decision-making. Wade can't afford to be careless or frenetic, and James will at times have to be the Heat's most imposing big man.
James and Wade knew their team would be outclassed at two positions every night against the best teams. That was the understanding when they came together, and the only individuals who can reliably compensate for that shortcomings are them.