The Bulls just won a Game 7 on the road for the first time in franchise history, while many of their best players were either out or playing with injuries. And that, as it turns out, was the easy part, because now Chicago has to face heavy championship-favorite Miami.
The Bulls get a full day of rest before taking on Miami Monday night in AmericaAirlines Arena, where the Heat have lost just four games all season. One of those defeats came at the hands of the Bulls, in early January. You may have also heard about the other Bulls’ victory in the series this season, one that put an end to Miami’s 27-game winning streak.
Lots was made of the Bulls “hard fouls” and “tackling” in that streak busting victory, which will surely be a talking point and something to watch throughout the series. But let’s not forget the most flagrant foul of the entire series was when LeBron James lost his cool and elbowed Carlos Boozer. It’s no secret these teams don’t like each other, but to call anything the Bulls have done “cheap” is disingenuous. The Bulls aren’t going to give any easy baskets to their opponent. That goes for the Bobcats or the Heat.
But there’s no question there will be some flagrants in this series. Chicago won’t back down and neither will Miami, but there is a difference between hard fouls and cheap fouls.
If you thought the Bulls faced an uphill battle in Round 1, just wait for this series. You probably won’t be able to find an “expert” picking against the Heat—only Henry Abbot, Bradford Doolittle and Chris Palmer have the series going longer than five games on ESPN.com out of the 17 experts—and rightfully so. Miami cruised through the regular season, piling up a league-best 66 wins, while LeBron nearly unanimously won his fourth MVP award.
The Bulls split the season series with the Heat, with Miami’s victories both coming by double digits, including one game that the Bulls managed just 67 points. Both of Chicago’s victories were by single digits.
There is good news for the Bulls. First, it’s unlikely they can be any more injured than they were in Game 6 and 7 against the Nets. In all seriousness, Joakim Noah has looked better than he has in some time now the last two games out, making it appear like his plantar fasciitis has subsided somewhat. Jo had a huge Game 7, tallying 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks, leading the Bulls to victory.
He was healthy for only two of the four games against Miami, and the Bulls went 1-1 with their starting center. Jo averaged 12.0 points on 45.5 percent from the field, 10.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
Miami will have seven days of rest since sweeping the Bucks in the first round. That gives Dwyane Wade some time to heal from a bruised right knee, but it also opens the possibility of the Heat being a little rusty in Game 1. Wade is expected to play Monday, but with the Bulls still in a rhythm after Game 7 Saturday night, a quick Chicago start could help them steal Game 1.
Luol Deng is officially out for tonight’s game and hasn’t yet joined the team in Miami. Deng received a blood patch to stop spinal fluid leakage after getting a spinal tap to test for meningitis. Deng does just about as good a job as anyone can in trying to slow down LeBron James, and without Lu, it shifts the Bulls defense a little out of whack. With Deng unable to go, Jimmy Butler will probably have to switch from Wade to LeBron. And then Marco Belinelli or Kirk Hinrich (if he is healthy), would have go up against Wade.
The Bulls are 8-8 against the Heat in the Big Three era, but just 1-4 in the playoffs.