Heat-Bulls Preview

Miami Heat Status Check:
Record: 56-14
Division: 12-1
Conference: 33-9
Road Record: 24-11
Last 10 Games: 10-0
Streak: Won 27
Last game: 108-94 win over Orlando
PPG: 103.5 (5th)
Opponents PPG: 95.5 (7th)
Offensive Rating: 112.7 (1st)
Defensive Rating: 104.0 (9th)
Pace: 90.8 (22nd)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .549 (1st)
Turnover Percentage: .133 (8th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .728 (21st)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .223 (26th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .226 (5th)
Opp. eFG%: .487 (9th)
Opp. TO%: .148 (3rd)
Opp. FT/FGA: .204 (16th)
Leading scorer: LeBron James (26.7)

Stats from Basketball-Reference

Miami Injury Report:
Dwyane Wade: questionable (sore knee)

Overview:
Less than a year ago it was conceivable that the Bulls could beat the Heat in a playoff series. Chicago was the top seed in the Eastern Conference, despite a bunch of injured guys, with Miami in second. I wouldn’t have put money on the Bulls taking down Miami in a seven game battle, but I would have bet anything that it would be competitive and that Chicago would push the Heat to the brink.

Now, less than 12 months later, things have changed. Derrick Rose is still out, the Bulls have an almost entirely new bench and the Heat are playing out of their minds. Right now, the gap between the two teams is wider than LeBron’s headband.

Miami comes in on an absurd 27-game winning streak, the second longest in NBA history and six games away from tying the Lakers’ all-time mark of 33. The Bulls are on a two-game winning streak—just the second times they’ve won back-to-back games since the beginning of February.

While Miami’s superstar is playing at an all-time high and cruising to what should be another MVP, the Bulls are still awaiting the return of theirs.

All of this sounds like doom and gloom, but it may actually work out well for the Bulls. Miami has a tendency to come out of the gates slow. They’ve trailed four of their last last five opponents by double-digits and were tied with Orlando late in the third quarter.

The Bulls are a better team than any of those, and although they’ve blown leads of their own this season, if they can get on top of Miami their defense could carry them to a streak-ending victory.

All these things that are working against the Bulls—no Rose, the injuries—may end up working for them. This is Chicago’s championship. They always get up to play the Heat, whether it’s the regular season or playoffs. This hasn’t been “just another game” since Miami signed James, Wade and Bosh, even if the Bulls say it is. A game of this magnitude means more, and rightfully so.

But this meaning is more one-sided than it has ever been. When Rose was healthy, the Bulls were a threat to Miami. That meant the Heat wanted to crush the Bulls the same way the Bulls wanted to crush the Heat. That doesn’t seem to be the case now. Sans Rose, Chicago is just another stepping stone on the way to a spot in the Finals for Miami.

“We know that Chicago is going to be a tough game for us, and playing in that building,” LeBron James said. “We want to come out with our game plan … and give ourselves a chance to win.” Well the Bulls are just 19-16 in the United Center, and when the two teams met there in February, Chicago managed to score just 67 in a 19-point loss.

The Bulls shot 37.3 percent in that contest, compared to 50.7 for the Heat. Noah nearly had a triple-double, posting eleven points, eight rebounds and eight assists. But with the poor shooting and Chicago’s 27 turnovers, it wasn’t really close. That was Miami’s ninth straight win, which seems like forever ago.

The underdogs did get the better of the Heat when they met in Miami though, where the Bulls dominated the glass. Chicago grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to the Heat’s four and won the overall rebounding battle 48-28. Miami shot slightly better and had fewer turnovers, but that rebounding margin put the Bulls over the top, helping Chicago grab a 20-7 advantage in second chance points. An effort like that on the boards is how they are going to win this game. They scored just eleven second chance points when the two teams met in the United Center.

Chicago has enough trouble scoring, when going up against a good defense like Miami, the Bulls will need all the second chance points they can get.

The Bulls have against the Heat won without Rose before, this year and last year. But playing without Marco Belinelli (abdomen) and Noah (foot) would be an enormous hill to climb. With that said, John Lucas III scored 24 points in a game against Miami last season, leading the Bulls to a victory. So no matter what goes down tonight, crazier things have happened.

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