James, Heat struggle against Bulls

Published 11:48 pm Monday, May 16, 2011

CHICAGO (AP) — LeBron James had trouble sleeping the night before the opener of the Eastern Conference finals because he was so excited about the opportunity ahead. Maybe he was a little tired Sunday night.

Now the Miami Heat star will likely have more restless nights ahead before Game 2 on Wednesday night.

James picked up two first-quarter fouls, had an off-night offensively shooting just 5-for-15, and the Heat’s defense became unglued in the second half Sunday night as the Bulls took control in a 103-82 victory.

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James, averaging 26.1 points in the playoffs so far, finished with 15 — only five in the second half.

“It’s a really good defensive team. They make you take some tough shots,” James said.

“There were a couple of shots that I normally make and have made in the past. Just one of those nights where individually I just didn’t have it going.”

Chicago native Dwyane Wade had 18, eight under his playoff average, while shooting 7-for-17.

“They put a lot of pressure on us. They extended their defense a lot,” Wade said. “They did a good job of making sure we weren’t comfortable in our offensive sets.

If not for Chris Bosh, the other member of Miami’s heralded Big Three, the game could have gotten away earlier in the deafening roar of the United Center. Bosh had 30 points.

“LeBron is such a tough cover. You don’t guard him individually. You guard him with your team,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, known for his defensive schemes.

“He is so unselfish. He’s going to the pass the ball when he’s double teamed. That’s the way he plays. He’s very unselfish. And then he got some good looks that he normally makes.”

Miami’s starters watched the final two minutes of the blowout from the bench, not the start they could ever have envisioned. The Heat, who were 0-3 against the Bulls in the regular season, finished with 16 turnovers, four apiece by James and Wade.

Even more telling was the Heat’s inability to keep the Bulls off the offensive boards, where Chicago had a 19-6 advantage.

“Nineteen offensive rebounds, that’s unacceptable for us,” Bosh said. “If we are serious about winning, we have to change that.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said one way is to get down after loose balls, where he said the Bulls were dominant.

“They are a quick, athletic team. They can play above the rim,” he said. “Some of the scraps down on the ground, we couldn’t come up with them. … We’ll adjust. That won’t be the only thing that we have to adjust. But certainly the fistfight under the glass will be a start.”

James managed only two points in the third quarter when the Bulls pulled out to a nine-point lead. He was guarded all night by Luol Deng and had trouble shaking the Bulls’ 6-foot-9 defender.

In the third period, he lost one ball near the Bulls bench and seconds later tried to take Taj Gibson one-on-one to the basket, only to have his shot deflected.

With the final possession of the third quarter, James put up a 3-pointer that wasn’t close. His 3-pointer early in the fourth got the Heat to within eight but then the Bulls pulled away and James didn’t score again.

The Bulls reserves seemingly wore the Heat down in the final period and Ronnie Brewer’s empathic dunk over Bosh made it a 14-point game.

With an astonished “Who me?” look James was called for his second foul later in the opening quarter after a scramble for a rebound that saw Chicago’s Gibson wind up on the floor. There was only 1:07 left in the quarter when James, with four points, headed to the bench with the Heat ahead by four.

In the opening moments of the game, James had a block, a steal, a dunk, a rebound and an assist as the Heat came out — and as promised — withstood the early din at the United Center.

But the decibel level got cranked in the opening minutes of the second quarter when Gibson went over Wade with an emphatic dunk that turned into a three-point tying the game.

Bulls fans are unforgiving of the three Heat stars, all of whom got a recruiting pitch from Chicago last summer before heading south. And they were booed at every turn, especially James and Wade.

Bosh shot 1-for-18 in his previous trip to the United Center in the regular season, but this time was 12-for-18. He had back-to-back dunks late in the first half, when he finished with 17 points. But he carelessly picked up his third foul near midcourt trying to get the ball away from Deng with 20 seconds to go in the half.