- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
Miami Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler still believes his team can turn things around in the NBA Finals despite the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers took a commanding 3-1 lead after a 102-96 Game 4 win on Tuesday night in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Butler, who has praised his team’s mental toughness all season, spoke with the same calm confidence he has had throughout the Heat’s time in the bubble despite the group’s latest setback.
“I don’t think that it should [change],” Butler said. “We’re so comfortable with who we are and how we play that that’s what we’re going to go out there and do. And we’re going to live with the end result; obviously, we want it to be a win, but we just got to lock in on us knowing that we can control a lot of these things, but our confidence ain’t going nowhere. It’s going to stay high. I’m going to make sure that it stays high because it’s going to have to be at an all-time high to get this next win.”
That mantra was echoed throughout players’ and coaches’ words throughout the game. The Heat have prided themselves all season as being a group that plays with a collective chip on its shoulder. They enjoy the challenge that comes with adversity — which is a huge reason Butler and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra have no problem blocking out the noise from much of the basketball world that now believes this series is likely over.
“Our guys love competition and love the challenge,” Spoelstra said. “We are here for a purpose. We never expected this to be easy. We’ll just rest and recover tomorrow. I think everybody could probably use that a little bit. Recalibrate, get back to work on Thursday. I know our group’s going to be ready.”
With Game 5 not until Friday night, the Heat are buoyed by the fact that they’ll have a few days to get the mental and physical break needed to try to extend the series. The Heat are holding out hope that Goran Dragic, who has been out since the second half of Game 1 after suffering a plantar tear in his left foot, will be able to play on Friday after getting more treatment.
Bam Adebayo, who returned to the lineup on Tuesday after missing Games 2 and 3 because of a neck strain, said after the game that he’s “still not 100 percent.”
The 23-year-old All-Star center believes the break will be a good thing for everybody.
“I feel like, collectively, we all need two days off,” Adebayo said. “It’s not just me, it’s not just Goran, but we all need a couple days just to readjust, realign, get some fresh air and get back to the drawing board.”
Dragic’s absence was felt more acutely in Game 4 than at any other point in the series, as rookie Kendrick Nunn struggled to find any rhythm offensively, shooting just 2-for-11 from the field. Getting Dragic back a few days after Adebayo’s return would provide a huge emotional lift for a group that remains convinced it can get back on track before it’s too late.
“We know we got to be better,” Butler said. “We know that we can be better, as I’ve been saying this entire time. We showed glimpses of it, and then we made some crucial mistakes, whether it be on the defensive end or the offensive end, and beat ourselves in the end. But like I always say, they’re a really, really, really good team, we got to play damn near perfect to beat them. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Butler isn’t ready to concede anything yet. They believe they can be better, and they trust in that because of the hard work that has already brought them to a point few in the league thought they could be at this season.
“We’ll respond,” Spoelstra said. “That’s not even — that’s academic at this point, we’ll just rest up [Wednesday] and get back to work and get ready for the next one.”
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