The Bulls look to win their sixth straight this afternoon as they travel to their supposed “bitter rival” and two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Before anything else, I feel obligated to mention that both LeBron James and Jimmy Butler are apparently out for today’s game, which both complicates and simplifies things. Without Jimmy, the Bulls don’t really have anyone who Thibs would trust to guard LeBron James, but without LeBron, it doesn’t matter. One has to imagine that Tony Snell will draw Wade, who he would seem to match up well against. Defending Chris Bosh, as always, will be Noah’s charge. In LeBron’s absence, it was announced that Greg Oden would start in his place, his first start since 2009.
On the larger level, this game should prove just how serious this resurgence is. Since the beginning of January, the Bulls have beaten four opponents currently over .500: Phoenix, San Antonio, Phoenix again and Toronto. The Phoenix games were impressive, but ultimately meaningless (the likelihood of a Suns/Bulls Finals seems pretty low at this point). The Spurs are a triage unit, and the Raptors, while good, are much in the same boat the Bulls are. This game, finally, will test this resurgent team for all that they’re worth. Even without LeBron, the Heat are greatly dangerous and worth fearing.
Probable Starting Lineups:
Chicago Bulls (29-25, 2nd in Central, 4th in East)
C- Joakim Noah: 7th season. 11.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists.
PF- Carlos Boozer: 12th season. 14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists.
SF- Mike Dunleavy: 12th season. 10.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists.
SG- Tony Snell: 1st season. 5.7 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals.
PG- Kirk Hinrich: 11th season. 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists.
Miami Heat (39-14, 1st in Southeast, 2nd in East)
C- Greg Oden: 3rd season. 2.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.6 blocks.
PF- Chris Bosh: 11th season. 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.0 blocks.
SF- Shane Battier: 13th season. 4.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists.
SG- Dwyane Wade: 11th season. 18.7 points, 4.8 assists, 4.9 points.
PG- Mario Chalmers: 6th season. 9.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists.
Key Matchup: Tony Snell vs Dwyane Wade
Snell, coming off a career high 20 points against Denver, looks to get the start in place of Jimmy Butler, whose “rib contusion” will keep him out of today’s game and possibly longer. Snell has yet to defend or shoot the three like we assumed he might have out of college, but his ballhandling, aptitude in the pick and roll and mid-range shooting have all shown real signs of potential. According to NBA.com, Snell is hitting over 40% of his shots from 16-24 feet, which places him solidly above the NBA average. Meanwhile, he’s connected on 13 of the 23 shots he’s taken from 16 feet or more on the left side of the floor, a .565 percentage and easily his most dangerous area, despite the small sample size. While the Heat will almost certainly be a lot more difficult to victimize in the pick and roll than the hapless Nuggets were, the Bulls need as much dependable, repeatable offense as they can find, and Snell seems to be capable of providing that. If he can come anywhere near equalling Wade’s output, the Bulls will likely win this game.