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Heat host Bulls, Warriors visit Spurs in second round openers

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The Sports Network
5/6/2013 10:43:21 AM
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(Sports Network) - The Miami Heat have been idle for more than a week, but they'll need to get back to business, starting Monday night when they take on the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Heat finished a sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round eight days ago, while the Bulls took a decisive Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night.

"We want to get back at it," said Miami's LeBron James, who was a near unanimous choice as the league MVP for a fourth time.. "We're looking forward to Monday night's game."

While this matchup won't be confused with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the Heat and Bulls have built something of a rivalry this season.

The Bulls ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak, which was the second- longest in NBA history. After the setback, James bemoaned the pounding he took from the Bulls, especially two specific fouls, one from Kirk Hinrich and one from Taj Gibson.

"Those are not basketball plays and it's been happening all year," James said after the loss. "I've been able to keep my cool and try to tell Spo (head coach Erik Spoelstra), 'Let's not worry about it too much,' but it is getting to me a little bit."

James shook it off en route to another MVP, the best record in the league and a sweep in round one.

The Heat hope the week of rest allowed them to get healthy. Dwyane Wade didn't play in the series clincher against Milwaukee with a bruised knee. He is expected to be ready.

Chicago isn't really interested in hearing about injury problems.

On top of missing former MVP Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich didn't play in the final three games of the Nets series. Luol Deng missed the final two games.

"We've dealt with adversity all year. Our team has the belief that we can win every night," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "We've been short-handed and guys have stepped up."

First among them has been Joakim Noah. Battling plantar fascitis, Noah has been a warrior this postseason and registered a double-double in the series finale.

"Before this series I did not know if I was going to be able to play," said Noah. "I could barely walk. To be in this situation now and win a Game 7 like this in front of my family in Brooklyn. I'll remember this for the rest of my life."

Now, Noah and the Bulls will be decided underdogs against the defending NBA champions.

"That's our rivalry," said Chicago forward Taj Gibson. "Words can't express how bad we want to beat them."

Since the 2005-06 season, these two sides have met in the playoffs three times. The Heat won in 2006 and 2011, but Chicago swept the Heat in 2007.

These teams split the four regular-season matchups, each team winning one game on the road. Miami has won five of its last six and 10 of its last 12 against the Bulls at home.

Warriors at Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs have been home resting for more than a week since they swept the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, they face the upstart Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals, starting Monday in the Alamo City.

The rest has been welcome for the Spurs.

"It's been good. We're taking advantage of it," said the venerable Tim Duncan. "We're using the time to rest up. You don't want to lose the rhythm. We're practicing hard."

The Spurs faced the Lakers without Kobe Bryant and without Steve Nash for two of the four games. The Lakers pounded it inside to Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, but now the up-tempo Warriors await. They are younger than the Lakers and try to get out and run the floor.

"The pace is going to be different than the last team we played," Duncan said. "It's going to take a little while."

Golden State beat the third-seeded Denver Nuggets in six games in the first round. The clincher came Thursday night in front of a raucous crowd at Oracle Arena.

The Warriors haven't advanced to this point in the postseason since 2007. They haven't won two series in the playoffs since winning the NBA title after the 1974-75 season. In fact, they haven't taken more than a game in this round of the playoffs since 1977.

"This is a scrappy group," said Golden State coach Mark Jackson. "I'm extremely blessed to be in this position. That's a special group. This is the greatest group of men I've ever been around as a team."

The Warriors and Spurs split the four regular-season matchups, with the home team winning each time. When Golden State beat the Spurs on Feb. 22, it snapped a 16-game losing streak to San Antonio.

It's worse for the Warriors in San Antonio. They've dropped 29 straight as the visitor in this series and their last victory in San Antonio came on Valentine's Day in 1997.

For some perspective, Warriors star guard Steph Curry was one month away from turning nine years old the last time Golden State won a game in San Antonio.

"What better time to change that," said Curry.

The Warriors won both games at home during the regular season, but lost seven straight before that.

"If I was picking this series, I'd give them the check mark," acknowledged Jackson. "It's a model organization. They've got three future Hall of Fame basketball players, a future Hall of Fame coach. It's going to be a tough task. They are clearly the favorite.

"It's going to be fun."



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