Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Game No. 70 Preview, Bulls-Heat: Have You Heard

Chicago Bulls (38-31) vs. Miami Heat (56-14)
8:00 ET, ESPN
So, due to school, the Hawks and Big Ten basketball, the Bulls sort of fell off the radar here. Such is life. It's hard to believe that tonight's tilt is the 70th game of the season, but here we are.

The Bulls have been the basketball manifestation of Rasputin this season, suffering all manner of injuries and seemingly deadly blows only to continue to trudge along, seven games above .500 and fifth in the Eastern Conference, currently slated for a winnable first round series against Brooklyn. 

Derrick Rose is still gone, and it seems fairly obvious to everyone that he won't be suiting up this season. Richard Hamilton has done his best Martin Havlat impression, having not played since Feb. 26. Taj Gibson missed 10 games with a sprained MCL, but mercifully returned to the lineup last Thursday against Portland. Since his return, he's averaged 12.3 ppg in three games. Needless to say, he was missed. 

Kirk Hinrich did return against Portland on March 21 after having missed seven straight,  but he's shot a horrendous 5/24 from the field in his first three games back. He was a -10 in Sunday's win in Minneapolis, and Robinson rightfully got 10 more minutes despite Hinrich getting the starting nod.

The Bulls will still be without Rose and Hamilton, and Marco Belinelli will be a game-time decision after missing the Minnesota game on Sunday. Joakim Noah, who has missed the last two games with a case of a return of that pesky plantar fasciitis, will also be a game-time decision. 

If Belinelli and Noah can't go, the Bulls' chances of ending the 27-game Heat winning streak are slim. If they go, I'm saying there's a chance. The Bulls are 1-1 against Miami on the season, beating the Heat in Miami on Jan. 4 but getting thumped at the United Center on Feb. 21, 86-67.

In case you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard that the Heat are on a bit of a streak. Their last loss came on Feb. 1, which is fairly ridiculous. However, their upcoming stretch comes against some opponents with a pulse, so if they are going to lose it might as well be now; why not Chicago?

There's not much need to go through the standard personnel rundown. LeBron James is not from this planet, and is sure to be this season's MVP, an award he will probably win [*Sandlot voice*] for-ev-errrr. He's averaging 26.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 7.4 apg. LeBron is a basketball cyborg, sent to us from Cyberdyne to terrorize the National Basketball Association. Good luck, Luol and Jimmy. Hoping your team prevents LeBron from getting into the lane is like trying to stop a speeding locomotive. 

As always, here's the Deng-James player comparison (sample size caveats do apply, given these teams have met only twice): 

Elsewhere, Dwyane Wade has missed the last two games for the Heat and might be out for this one [update: he's playing]. Ray Allen continues to come off of the bench to drain threes in your eye (43% on the season); Mike Miller starts at the SG spot in Wade's stead.

The Heat have had a few close calls during this stretch, including a 98-95 victory at Cleveland (sans Kyrie Irving). I mean, they have to lose eventually...said every other team in the last six or seven weeks. 

If Noah can go, which I doubt will happen, the Bulls have a shot at doing some work on the offensive glass against a team with a defensive rebounding percentage of 72.8%, putting them in the bottom third of the league. Otherwise, it all depends on whether or not Boozer can nail some jumpers, Deng can pitch in something while having to check LeBron and Nate Robinson doing his best 2011-12 John Lucas III against Miami impression. 

On the bright side, the Bulls have showed some fight, winning their last two against division leader Indiana and at Minnesota after having previously lost six of their last eight. The Pacers game was yet another Big Ten-esque clash, with a combined 38 points from Noah and Boozer powering the Bulls to to a win on a night when Nazr Mohammed not only started but played 31 minutes. To his credit, he did score 11 points and grab seven boards, which I would be lying if I said that I didn't think he would reach those numbers in an entire season with the Bulls. 

But, as they say, next man up. Injuries or not, the Bulls have proven they can beat the Heat without Rose on the floor, but that doesn't mean it will actually happen.

At full strength, I'd actually feel pretty good about the Bull's chances, even if we're talking 2012-13 "full strength" (i.e. everybody but Rose). Even if Noah and Belinelli sit, I would still like Chicago's chances against a Wade-less squad. LeBron is great, but can he do it against Chicago by himself?

The answer to that question is, well, of course he can. There are a lot of injury-related hypotheticals tied to this one, but one team has LeBron and the other doesn't. Play this game ten times without Wade, Noah and Belinelli (and Hamilton and Rose) and the Heat probably win six of seven times out of ten.

Bulls 89, Heat 93.

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