x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Miami Heat are a game away from title round

Even with the lukewarm Dwyane Wade in their ranks, Miami is just a game away from reaching the title round.

Dwyane Wade was at his best in overtime. 'This is his time,' Erik Spoelstra, his coach, said.
Dwyane Wade was at his best in overtime. 'This is his time,' Erik Spoelstra, his coach, said.

Miami's Big Three may be playing like a Big Two, but it is still only one win away from playing for the NBA's biggest prize.

LeBron James scored 35 points, Chris Bosh added 22 and Dwyane Wade blocked as many shots - two - as Chicago made in overtime, as the Heat topped the Bulls 101-93 in a scintillating Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final on Tuesday night.

Miami will go for the clincher today at Chicago, where the Heat can wrap up their first finals trip since 2006.

"It's one game away," James said. "We're not taking anything for granted."

But the Heat, and James inparticular, seem to have found away to take away Chicago's biggest weapon.

And Derrick Rose's 23 points was not evenough to stop the Bulls from losing three straight for the first time this season.

"It's not over," vowed Rose, who shot eight of 27 and turned the ball over seven times.

Maybe it is. Chicago had its chances, and knew it, but was unable to take advantage of a largely off night by Wade. That is because Rose was guarded in the game's biggest minutes by James, and the MVP from 2009 and 2010 had the upper hand against this season's MVP, with Rose admitting that "it's extremely hard when a 6-8 guy can easily defend you".

The Heat's only problem is Wade, who was stuck on eight points from late in the second until past the midpoint of overtime.

And yet that was not a problem, either, not with a sleep-deprived Mike Miller - whose wife delivered a baby last week - making plenty of key defensive plays to help Miami outscore Chicago by a whopping 36 points with him on the floor.

More proof that the Heat are not just "Wade's team" anymore.

It is why Miami went out and got James, and why Bosh joined them.

And for all the points and highlight reel dunks, spins and moves, when Miami is reduced from the Big Three to the Dynamic Duo because of Wade's struggles, it is defense that is the key to their success.

"Defense is the reason that we're here," Bosh said, "and defense is the reason why we have a chance of winning Game 5."

So, from the Miami perspective, Game 4 will be remembered for how the Heat rallied around Wade.

"We reminded him in one of the final huddles, this is his time," Erik Spoelstra, the Heat coach, said.

The 2006 NBA finals MVP was in the arena late Monday night, in one of his customary after-dark sessions. He finished with 14 points to keep his double-digit scoring streak alive to 77 games, but did it on five of 16 shooting.

That is well off his regular-season average, where he hit 50 per cent of his shots. At 18.3 points per game, Wade is also 7.2 ppg off his regular season average.

And from the Chicago perspective, it is live to fight another day. But how much longer after that is anyone's guess if they cannot find a way to spring Rose free.

After averaging 29.8 ppg against Atlanta in the semis, Rose is averaging an even 23 ppg against Miami on .363 shooting.

The difference with Chicago is that their other options are not LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Without that second threat, Miami knows if they shut down Rose they shut down the Bulls.