Bulls vs. Heat: Looking to clinch #1 seed (Game Preview #63)

[Thanks to BULLieving in Miami for today's game preview. The final 3 games are unclaimed if you want to jump in before the season is over. Posting this now and will likely update when we get an official word on Rose and Deng's status -yfbb]

Missed last night's win against the lowliest of the low, the Charlotte Bobcats. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. In my opinion it's a shame that games featuring MJ's franchise against the one he played for (y'know, the Bulls. He did OK there) can't muster up any excitement. Well, thank goodness for the Heat. Nothing like a game against the bitterest of rivals, regardless of what JoNo has to say, to snap everyone out of a 48-hour snooze.

For some reason this game doesn't seem to carry the same excitement that last week's matchup did even though you know the NBA made this late-season schedule with causing build up to the playoffs in mind. Hopefully I can get a fire going in your belly.

Even though last week's win against these Heat helped in securing the top seed in the conference, it didn't completely finish the job. Since last Friday, the Bulls lead has shrunk from 4 games to 2.5, though they're still up two games in the more-important loss column. But a Bulls loss tonight makes things a bit more interesting with Miami having a game in hand. Good thing this isn't hockey (Go Panthers!) and we're not accumulating points. The sooner the Bulls can get through the schedule the better and the Bulls are one game closer than the Heat to accomplishing that.

Both teams played last night with the Heat beating the Raptors at home. Both teams are also playing their 4th game in 5 nights but Miami might be a little fresher tonight. No travel, Wade sitting out the last two games (apparently he doesn't get paid enough to play a whole season), and Bosh sitting last night. Now for the Bulls, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng have also sat out the last two games not so much because of rest but because of injury(s). They could realistically play tonight but it could be a nice slap to the face of the Heat if they don't and give the Heat the impression that this game isn't as important to the Bulls. Yeah right. Who am I kidding! This is Thibs and the Bulls that we're talking about here.

As of this post, still no word on whether either of those two will play.

If you're looking for some extra fuel for that fire in your belly, there is the commotion this caused among Heat fans this week. This particular quote is what drew the ire of Heat fans:

The contrast with LeBron is one everyone loves to make, and Rose doesn't mind it himself. But Rose is as beloved now as LeBron was before The Decision. Does he worry that someday he might get LeBron'd himself?

"I won't ever put myself in a bad position so that people can say bad things about me," he says. "I make smart decisions, and my friends and my family, they are all there for the right reason. I'm very mature for 23 years old, and I know that whatever I do can hurt someone."

Heat fans began calling in to the local sports radio shows in droves, calling Rose everything from condescending to grouchy to stupid to boring. While I think he just worded it wrong, I think at the heart of the quote is the notion that he would never want to become a villain in his hometown much the way Lebron has in Cleveland. Obviously Heat fans don't want to see that logic and just want to use this as a dig against their team. Whatever. However you look at it, I expect the crowd to be particularly boisterous during this game and will probably let Rose hear it when he gets introduced (if he plays). I will say some fans did preface their criticism by saying they like Rose so maybe the reaction won't be as harsh and some will just dismiss his comments as "not knowing any better".

Now, does Lebron hear this and get juiced up? I'm of the opinion NBA players, above all other athletes, keep their ears perked up. So maybe Lebron has caught wind of this and decides to go off tonight. Let him. We have Lucas.

Depending on who plays tonight this game can swing either way. If Rose AND Deng are out, I don't see how the Bulls win considering the travel between games. The saving grace is that none of the starters played over 24 minutes last night, so hopefully they were able to conserve some energy. If both play, then we most definitely have a contest. And call me crazy but if Rose plays but Deng sits, I still think the Bulls are in trouble. The Bulls' success this year without Rose has been commendable, but a part of me wonders how much this team would suffer with guys like Deng or Noah out for extended time. Those two are so integral to the aspects of the game the Bulls dominate in (defense, rebounding) that I'd anticipate very noticeable slippage in such a scenario. Good thing Noah has remained relatively healthy all year and we haven't had to face that situation.

Regardless, tonight should be an excellent contest and I expect the crowd to be raucous. It'll be interesting to see what adjustments the Heat make after last week's loss and how they try to counteract the Bulls bench. Unfortunately for the Heat, the only solution I see is putting Wade, Lebron, and Bosh on the "Deng minutes plan" (y'know, 50 minutes in a 48-minute game). That's fine by me. Anything to fatigue them further than they already are.

I'll be loving this one live. I don't tweet (I'm looking at you, yfBB) so I'll be representing for the Bulls as much as possible. And if you want to fuel your disdain for Miami even more, just tune in to Cubs-Marlins this afternoon as a pre-game warm-up. LET'S GO BULLS!!!!!!!

Bulls-Heat, 7pm CST, on TNT.

And as always, an obligatory dig at that pinnacle of blogs, Peninsula is Mightier. The echo will astound you.

Since this is the last matchup we see between these two teams for at least about 5 weeks (hopefully), here's a trip down memory lane of the last two years.

ECF highlights

Last year's epic showdown in Miami

Lucas goes off

Luol hits the game-winner

Mad scramble to Korver's 3

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