The basics: Miami (27-24) at Chicago (23-29).
Trends of note: The Heat have lost five of seven while the Bulls have won five of seven. Miami is 10-15 on the road this season and Chicago is 14-10 at home. Dwyane Wade (28.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 7.0 APG) has been playing like an MVP all year. BUT…he’s averaged only 16.6 points on 36.1 percent shooting in his last five games at the United Center, where the Heat have lost three straight. Could the city be his Kryptonite?
Is it getting warmer here, or is it just Derrick? Chicagoans have been suffering through the coldest winter in eight years and the 21st coldest winter in the past 139 years. Seriously. But the brutal cold has been letting up a bit lately, and temperatures reached the upper 50s in the downtown area earlier this week. The world’s leading meteorologists suspect this may be due to the recent play of Derrick Rose. The Bulls have won five of their last seven games, and during that stretch Rose has averaged 18.4 points on 57.1 percent shooting while dishing out 47 assists (to just 14 turnovers). He’s also scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games, including Tuesday night’s 23-point, zero-turnover performance. Even his jump shot is rounding into form: He went 7-for-11 from the outside against Detroit.
There are only two concerns. First is the shoulder to the head he received from Antonio McDyess in the closing seconds of the win against the Pistons. It knocked him out of the game and, if you saw the live broadcast, made him cry like a 10-year-old girl who’d just skinned her knee. But word has it his mommy put a Hello Kitty band-aid on the boo-boo and then kissed it for good measure, so he’ll be fine. Said Rose: “My neck cramped up. My head was hurting. I didn’t know what was going on. All I knew was I just got hit. I’m feeling fine. I had a headache [after the game]. My head doesn’t really hurt anymore.”
The second concern is that Rose had what may have been his worst game of the season in Miami back in December (10 points, 3-for-14, 5 turnovers). Of that stinker, Rose said: “I was trying to be aggressive and the shots just weren’t falling for me. I was thinking too much out there.” Let’s hope Derrick turns off his thinker tonight.
Speaking of that last game against the Heat…. Feud Alert! In case you’ve forgotten, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called a meaningless timeout with 30.9 seconds remaining in Miami’s 90-77 win over Chicago supposdedly to get Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem out of the game. This caused the Bulls to throw what many sociologists refer to as a “hissy fit.”
Said Andres Nocioni: “That upset the team. They hit our pride. There was nothing good about calling that timeout. I feel it was out of place. That is something only done to disrespect the opponent. There is no excuse or motive to call a late timeout with 25 seconds left and the game already decided.” Added Derrick Rose: “That’s going to stick with us for a while, until we play them again.” And Vinny Del Negro concluded: “We’ll play them again.” Buuuuurn.
Spoelstra, for his part, couldn’t figure out why the Bulls were freaking out. “I wasn’t clearly doing anything to show anybody up. If they want to make a big deal about it, whatever. It’s a pretty normal thing. I was perplexed by that, to be honest.” Dwyane Wade added: “Coach is very first-class. He’s not into trying to rub anything in at all.”
So…are those hard feelings going to carry over to tonight’s game? Maybe, maybe not. Vinny D recently said: “I don’t think it really will come into play that much.” Of course, then he noted: “But it doesn’t go away, either.” Spoelestra, though, isn’t concerned at all. Or at least is pretending not to be. “I think both teams have got much bigger issues to worry about and think about right now. I would be very surprised if it is a theme of the game.”
Frontcourt Play…advantage Chicago? The two players who have taken perhaps the most criticism for Chicago’s early-season woes are Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. But that’s all changed recently. Tyrus is averaging 18.5 PPG and 11.3 RPG in February and has had a double-double in six of his last seven games. Meanwhile, Joakim is averaging an almost-double-double this month (9.5 PPG and 9.0 RPG) while shooting 63 percent from the field. (He also had a game-high 16 rebounds, including 8 offensive boards, against the Pistons).
Miami’s frontcourt, on the other hand, was weakened significantly yesterday: Shawn Marion — the team’s leading rebounder — bruised his left eye orbit in practice when teammate Michael Beasley accidentally whacked him during a drill. That’s the same eye Marion injured last week in Detroit (courtesy of an inadvertent elbow from Allen Iverson). The Heat’s remaining big men — Udonis Haslem, Michael Beasley, Jamal Magloire, Joel Anthony, Yakhouba Diawara and Mark Blount — don’t exactly strike fear in my heart.
However, beware the statement game. Michael Beasley was supposed to be Rose’s primary competition for Rookie of the Year, but he’s been merely “OK” this season (13.2 PPG on 44 percent shooting to go with 5.2 RPG). He hasn’t scored 20 points in 14 games and he’s been held to single digits (7 and 4) in the last two. However, given Marion’s absence and the “versus Rose” angle, I’d expect Beasley to come out pretty fired up tonight.