[Thanks to BULLieving in Miami for carrying on his tradition of doing Heat-Bulls game previews. Gamethread at 2:30. Lets go Bulls! -ed.]
AKA versus the 1990 Detroit Pistons.
That's right, folks. It's time to encounter the mountain that the Bulls must overcome to achieve their championship dreams, granted only in a regular season tilt. Not that it matters much but this is about as much of a measuring stick game as we can get at the moment between these two teams who are almost certainly headed straight for a second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals bout. Really, at this point it's almost become an annual playoff meeting between these two. But honestly, they kinda make the perfect enemy don't they, what with loathing the Big 2 1/2 and all.
OK, I got my small dig in there, though this is somewhat of a different team than the one that ousted the Bulls last spring. To begin with, they are completely healthy with Dwyane Wade returning Friday night in a win against the Knicks. I guess them being healthy only means Udonis Haslem potentially tearing our hearts out won't be so unexpected. Mostly, the changes with the team this year are philosophical changes, the kinds of things that need to be hashed out over time with the mix of talent.For starters, Lebron and Wade did make a conscious effort to not shoot so many threes (initially it was shoot none threes) at the onset of the season. It seems like a sound approach as any time they come up the floor and hoist it up from downtown is really just letting the defense off easily and neither of them are prolific from that range. Still, I think it's a mistake to totally abandon that shot because you still have to make the defense stay honest and this current approach only enables the defense to pack the lane more. I think a healthy mix of timely threes which are open and in rhythm will best serve the Heat, but ultimately we all know their strengths lie in cutting to the rim.
Meawhile, our favorite whipping boy Chris Bosh (AKA Boshtrich AKA Boshatar AKA VelociBosh) has extended his range and is putting up a career high in 3pt attempts and conversely eFG%. I don't necessarily agree with this as it's only taking your PF who was kind of averse to playing inside already even further from the basket on offense. But who knows, maybe it's just a byproduct of allowing more room inside for Lebron and Wade to attack the rim. Still, Bosh seems to have settled into his role on this team better and really helped pick up the slack while Wade was out with the foot injury. Oh, and all that noise about him bulking up in the offseason, well, seems just like noise to me.
Another change, and something I've seen already altered even in this early stage of the season, is the spots the Heat choose to get out and run. It seemed early on the Heat were trying to constantly push the tempo. Why wouldn't you when you have two of the best fastbreak finishers in the game, right? The problem is I think it took their legs out of them by the time the 4th quarter came around. That, combined with them being on the road where it's never easy to get a win, was a factor in their mini the-world-is-crashing-down-on-the-Heat-according-to-fans losing streak a few weeks back. I think the Heat have figured out it's best to save the legs for the 2nd half. So what you are seeing now is them work at a bit more of a deliberate pace early in games, not get out and run so much unless it's trying to capitalize off a turnover. So maybe the games are close in the first half. But then the 2nd half comes and they release the hounds. Now they try and run at every opportunity they can, off TOs and defensive rebounds alike. I think the genesis for this was not having energy for the 4th qtr, most importantly on defense which is what allowed teams back into games. Now, the defense is frenetic and the fastbreaks are plenty late in the game as they usually end up pulling away from their opponent. It'll be interesting to see how the Bulls counter this and perhaps try to force the Heat's hand by getting them to run early.
Other things to watch for from this team are their 3pt shooters, which they have several of. While the Bulls roll out one Korver (and a CJ Watson to an extent this season), the Heat have Mike Miller, James Jones, Battier (somewhat), and even Mario Chalmers. It's important that the Bulls adhere to Stacey's mantra of KYP (Know Your Personnel) and close out on these guys and force them to put the ball on the floor while not completely biting on Lebron and Wade out on the perimeter.
Speaking of Chalmers, another difference is some steady play from the PG position this year from the fearless Chalmers who is never too shy to put up the big shot (right, Derrick?) and the surprising Norris Cole (or according to overzealous Heat fans the second coming of Tim Hardaway). I tend to think Chalmers is somewhat of a chucker but he really is having a career year and his personality seems to mesh well with the rest of the team. Meanwhile, Cole is providing solid minutes off the bench and also shows no hesitation in putting up an open shot considering who else he plays with. For all the trash we talk about the Heat's lack of depth, they've been getting quality production off the bench this season. The mini-Bench Mob (injuries. crap...) will have their work cut out for them.
Really didn't want to get into specific matchups with the injuries and all as it seems impossible to predict who will dress from game to game at this point. Imagine my dismay when I got home at 11pm to start watching the Bucks game and Rip was a maskless white dude. Still, even when fully healthy, not much has changed from last year in that regard. The Bulls still own the PG and C (I mean Eddy Curry? Really?) matchups while the Heat have the advantage at the other 3 positions. Also, Lebron really is playing at an MVP-level (he and Durant are my 1 and 1a candidates) and not having Deng (most likely?) is going to make it even more obvious. Also, though I'll take Thibs over Lil' Spoe every day of the week, Spoelstra really is showing that he is an underrated coach (well, he did learn from Riley) and is fully capable of not only handling the personalities on this team but also adapting to find ways to make the most of what he's got on the roster.
Honestly, considering the daunting road trip, it wouldn't surprise me if the Bulls lose this one considering it's in Miami, the South Beach 10-point advantage, and the fans might actually show up for this one instead of going to the beach like they can the other 364 days of the year. Wait, 365. It's a leap year after all. Unfortunately, I won't be able to represent live and in person because of stupid work, so this will be a DVR watch for me. For the rest of you with normal lives and free Sundays (sensing my bitterness yet?), 2:30CST on ABC.
As somewhat of a side note, it's a great time to be fans of teams from these two cities. At least in my mind, there is a brewing rivalry between Chicago and Miami. Dolphins-Bears always has meaning going back to '85, The Panthers are run by former Blackhawks management, and after this piece from a Cubs-loving writer on SBN's main baseball page, the intensity got ratcheted up a few ticks. I'm just glad to be on this side of the fence along with all you fine people (I mean, you're not ALL animatronic, right? Besides maybe yfBB...) when it comes to Bulls-Heat. Despite my pessimistic outlook, this should be an electric atmosphere and a fun watch, hopefully resulting in a wee-un for the good guys.
Gametime: 2:30CST on ABC (in case you didn't catch it above)
Blog with the enemy at Peninsula is Mightier. They need the hits.
Enjoy and GO BULLS!!!!!!!!