The Miami Heat continue their title defense against the injury-riddled, yet highly resourceful, Chicago Bulls. Miami’s had the luxury of affording their veterans some extra rest after sweeping the Bucks last week, then watching along as the Nets took Chicago to seven games.
Rest vs. Rust
One of the many interesting storylines to watch will be how Miami will look in game one. Over the last 10 seasons, 13 teams have had at least a week off between playoff games, with nine being victorious. Of the four losing teams include the ’08-’09 LeBron-led Cavaliers, who ended up losing to the Magic in six. Another one of the four losing teams was Dwyane Wade’s ’04-’05 Heat squad that ended up losing to the Pistons in seven.
While the teams split the season series, Chicago’s victories made much larger statements. On January 4th, the teams’ first matchup of the season, Chicago handed Miami only their third home loss of the season. The Heat would go on to win 17 consecutive home games before falling to the Knicks (on April 4, when Miami already had home court advantage locked up). Of much more significance was Chicago’s victory on March 27th, where the Bulls put an end to the second-largest win streak in NBA history (27!!).
Tom Thibodeau’s Defense
Tom Thibodeau’s been a thorn in LeBron James’ side since he was an Assistant Coach with Boston. The Celtics’ defense punished and harassed James right out of Cleveland! This year’s been no different, even with his MVP, Derrick Rose, missing the entire season. Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler have done an outstanding job of containing James and Wade. Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson both got under the skin of James, causing him receive a flagrant foul during Chicago’s historic victory on March. “Those are not basketball plays……it is getting to me a little bit,” said James, post-game.
Rose: Will He or Won’t He?
The question that’s been hanging over everyone’s head is whether or not Derrick Rose will suit up this season. He was scheduled to return after the All-Star break, but still hasn’t. While he’s been travelling with the team and participating in practices, the possibility of a return is looking gloomier with every passing day that Chicago trots out Marquis Teague! Even if he were to return, his effectiveness would likely be at or near the bottom of all our expectations.
Miami has had a week to rest and game plan for Round 2. Chicago, on the other hand, will be working off of two days rest PLUS start the round with injuries to Rose, Deng, Joakim Noah, and Hinrich (all starters!). In order to pull out the upset, the Bulls will need to rotate or switch frequently to disrupt the league’s 2nd-ranked offense. Chicago ranks 5th in opponents’ 3-pt FG%, while Miami ranks 2nd in 3-pt FG%. Also, the Bulls rank 1st in assists allowed, while the Heat rank 7th in assists per game. For Miami, they live and die through their MVP, LeBron James. He must be licking his chops to face a Chicago team that’s just been ravaged my injury. I anticipate Thibodeau will not go quietly into the night, but it won’t be enough to pull off the upset – Miami in 5.