[Thanks to Bullieving in Miami for today's game preview, really enjoyed this one. -ed.]
There will be one question leading up to tonight's game: Will Lebron tough it out and play? James inured his ankle during their loss at the Clippers Wednesday night. The Heat then proceeded to get drubbed in Denver 130-102 the following night, in a game where perhaps it seemed they weren't even trying.
This can all get viewed in many ways. If Lebron doesn't suit up (though its rumored he'll give it a go, according to Peninsula is Mightier), is it a reflection upon our Bulls and this game simply doesn't mean that much to them? This is also the last stop on their 5-game road trip (we won't call it a "circus trip" since that name is already patented). Could they possibly be looking forward to just getting home and healthy? In that regard it can also say plenty about our team. Remember earlier in the year during the Circus Trip when we fans were concerned about them losing to Sacramento because they might be also looking to just getting home? The Bulls won, but had to fight for it, being down 13 at the half. The Bulls are having to work hard for these wins. Granted, as opposed to last year's squad, they are showing resiliency and winning those games, but if the Heat come in and beat the Bulls without Lebron, then it shows just how easy the Heat have it going most nights. It shows that the Bulls aren't as close as we'd like to think they are. Hey, that's why the trio got together in the first place, right? They can coast much of the season and still amass a 30-11 record.
To their credit, the Heat have actually been playing outstanding ball. Since their sluggish 9-8 start, the Heat have mashed on the gas pedal (league leading +8 point diff). Lil' Spoe (as we call him down here) has figured out a few things about this team. For starters, the Heat are just a better team on the court when they have a true point out there with Wade and Lebron, rather than have one of them man the point guard duties. Having Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers (not calling him a pure point by any stretch, but he does help bring the ball up the floor, get them into their offense, and... well, chuck up shots) helps their offense get set-up quicker and smoother. It also helps that Arroyo (FIUuuuuuuu!!!) is having a career shooting year (of course).
Another quirk was losing Udonis Haslem to injury. Before the season I always envisioned the Heat's money-time lineup as Haslem, Bosh, Miller, LBJ, Wade. What the injury to Haslem did was force Lil' Spoe to not use Bosh at center as much as he was with Haslem in the game. Now the Heat always have one of Big Z, Joel Anthony, or Erica Dampier on the floor, who plainly are just able to do the inside work that Bosh isn't physical enough to do.
All in all, the Heat have been playing the way we all expected them to, capped off by Wade and Lebron sharing Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for December. This also raises an interesting debate. We sports fans love to argue about who is better than whom and if this guy played with that guy's teammates he'd be playing better. Well, what this season has given us is the ability to assess the 2 best players in the game (in my opinion. I've always liked both more than Kobe) side by side with the same teammates. No more excuses about who's supporting cast is better or worse. They both play with the same teammates and each other. If there were a conclusion to be drawn from that, Wade has shown to be the better player. Before Rose, Wade was always my favorite player in the league and he has not disappointed this year. Lebron just seems to go through these lulls where he starts chucking shots while Wade is always working for the most efficient shot. While Lebron can just overpower opponents at times, Wade is deceptive. He'll put you to sleep with his silky smooth dribbling and then suddenly explode to the rim.
Its been a great dynamic to watch this year. And despite the few empty seat the always sold-out UC crowd might see on TV, this has truly become a basketball town. The Dolphins and Canes (because they are treated like a second pro team down here) are in disarray, the Marlins continue to be... the Marlins (never forget 2003), and the hockey team plays in the next county. I really think it would take a Super Bowl win for the Fins to wrestle this town back from the grips of the Heat. The fever has truly caught on, its all anyone can talk about.
As far as the actual game, I'm picking the Bulls in this one, despite the back-to-back. The Bulls, believe it or not (since we have our issues with this year's schedule) are 8-3 so far in the second game of a B2B. Eight of those games have been on the road, and the team traveled back from Indy last night (they won). But when I started looking forward to this matchup at the beginning of their road trip, I figured this would be the one game the Heat could very well drop as it is the last game of the trip (and now with the injured James). I just don't want to hear excuses from Heat fans about the Bulls beating them without LBJ. Now, if Lebron does suit up, I could see this Heat team coming out pumped for Wade (loyalty?) and Lebron (the RIGHT decision?). Or perhaps Rose goes into beast mode and shows that he, in fact, didn't need Lebron with him in Chicago. Oh, Chris Bosh plays for them as well. Also, the Bulls matchup well in the areas where the Heat are weakest, namely in the post (KT, Asik, Boozer, Taj vs Z, Anthony, Dampier, Juwanna Howard?) and at PG (Rose vs Arroyo, Chalmers). Oddly enough, Chalmers has always played Rose well, so this will be a matchup to watch over the course of the game.
Catch the action tonight at 7PM (for you guys) on NBATV and WGN. I would suggest to go over to Peninsula is Mightier (horrible name for that blog) and the Miami Herald Heat Blog to make our presence felt, but there apparently isn't any readership, so we'd basically be the ONLY presence. Hostile Takeover!!! I guess blogging is just something we don't do down in Miami. Speaking of which, 72 and Sunny calls. Enjoy the game. Get loud, UC!!! And... I got Seahawks this weekend.