MIAMI - Heat guard Dwyane Wade is a Chicago guy, someone still in love with his hometown. But the Chicago Bulls rarely give him a warm reception.
Bulls forward Andres Nocioni pushed Wade in the back and sent him sprawling after a play two years ago, then delivered more hard hits on him during last year's Miami-Chicago series, won by the Heat in six games. This season, Kirk Hinrich tugged the Miami star's arm so hard that Wade sprained a wrist.
And the Heat expect more ruggedness from the Bulls starting today, when the teams open an Eastern Conference first-round rematch in Chicago.
"Am I concerned? Yeah. Knowing Scott Skiles, yeah," Heat center Shaquille O'Neal said, referring to the Bulls' coach. "He'll be saying foul him, foul him hard."
If Wade shares that concern, he's not showing it - yet, anyway.
Chicago's four losses in the series a year ago came by 43 points; Wade made 31 free throws in those games, meaning his work at the foul line played a big part in ensuring that Miami got to the second round, its first step toward winning the NBA title. And if the Bulls want to push, poke, prod and pester him in this series, that's just fine with him.
"You expect a team to be physical," Wade said. "I'm not going into it saying they're going to be physical because I'm injured. I don't think that way. But I expect it to be physical. They're a very physical team, they want to send a message, so you've got to be prepared for that."
The Bulls-versus-Wade issues are hardly the only ones defining the subplot surrounding this series. Heat forward James Posey often finds his way into scrapes against Chicago, including pushing Hinrich during last year's playoffs and drawing a suspension, pushing Bulls forward Luol Deng this year in the same game where Wade's wrist was hurt, and also was the player who jostled with Chicago rookie Tyrus Thomas for a rebound on opening night, inadvertently breaking Thomas' nose. Posey is trying to downplay all the rivalry talk. "We just want to go out there and play," he said. "We're the defending champs. We just have to go out there and play and if we do that, take it one game at a time, we should be fine." Wade missed 23 games with a dislocated left shoulder, and is still rehabbing in an effort to fully recover from that injury - so expect to see Chicago test the joint, and his pain tolerance, by running him off a lot of screens where his left side will collide with opposing players.
But if the Bulls go too far in that regard, O'Neal and Heat backup center Alonzo Mourning - a sculpted 6-foot-10 presence who doesn't shy away from physicality - will be watching, something that puts Wade's mind at ease.
"I'm not worried about that," Wade said. "I've got the biggest bigs in the league with Shaq and Zo. I'm not worried about that at all."
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