[Thanks to Bullieving in Miami for today's game preview. It's a new season and that means new chances to sign up. -yfbb]
When it comes to the NBA is it possible that there are two other words which can cause so much excitement? The NBA got it right when they scheduled this as the Opening Night game to get the 2013-2014 season underway. Sure, when it's all said and done only one of these two teams will have the right to play for the Larry O'Brien trophy in the NBA Finals but, regardless of what team emerges from the West, it feels like (assuming these are the two teams who get there) the Eastern Conference Finals are shaping up to be the battleground that could potentially decide the championship.
All joking aside, this matchup was too hard to resist to kick off the season. The Heat are the two-time defending champions of the NBA, can already be considered a dynasty considering it was their third straight Finals appearance, and possess the greatest player in the game today in Lebron James. Meanwhile, the Bulls bring a roster full of tough-nosed, hard-working, team-oriented players that unbiased basketball fans tend to appreciate (Noah antics aside). They have one of the finest coaches in the NBA roaming the sidelines in Tom Thibodeau. And then the joker in the deck: Derrick Rose. The only non-Lebron MVP of the last 5 seasons makes his return to regular season competition.
The story lines are much too scintillating. Whatever. We know all that stuff already. So what can us here at BlogaBull expect tonight in this first game of 98 for the Bulls in their pursuit of a 7th world championship and first since #23 donned the red & black?
To begin with, the Heat return basically the same team as last season, suggesting any improvement won't be from better talent but rather experience and progression of the roster in place. The one big (literally) addition is Greg Oden. Heat fans have been very optimistic about this signing as it adds an element their team was previously lacking: legit size. This team now starts the slight Chris Bosh at center full-time. "Birdman" Anderson gave them an inside defensive presence and a player who could finish around the rim (hey, anything is better than Joel Anthony, right?), but even he is undersized for his position. Oden is a big body who, when healthy, certainly excels at rebounding, one stat the Heat were getting creamed in last season. The Heat finished last in RPG (38.6), 21st in REB% (49.0), 24th in DREB% (73.0), and 26th in OREB% (22.2). Oden helps alleviate that just by his shear size.
The main question remains health. Frankly, it was a bit surprising to see him make an appearance the other night in preseason as everything being said on local talk radio was to not expect to see him until possibly December. Well, he played 4 minutes, grabbed 2 rebounds, and scored the loudest two points you've ever seen if you listen to Heat fans. We'll see how this signing pans out because if it does it gives the Heat a dimension they previously lacked. They could theoretically run out a lineup of Oden/Bosh/Lebron for spurts and cause problems inside. I wouldn't expect to see him get any run tonight.
The other offseason signing for the Heat that drew some attention is Michael Beasley, the player picked immediately after Derrick Rose in the 2008 NBA Draft. Beasley is intriguing because while he essentially replaces Mike Miller but certainly not his shooting (Miller did some other good things as well for the Heat), he brings a facet that no player outside of Lebron (and to an extent, Dwyane Wade) possesses on the Heat: an ability to score from anywhere on the floor, albeit inconsistent at it. Beasley has an all-around type of game where he can shoot from anywhere or put it on the floor and create his own shot, either facing up or with his back to the basket. This may be giving him too much credit and admittedly he's inconsistent and a poor shooter (44.7% for his career, though 34.5% from beyond the arc, which ain't too shabby) but he adds a skill set the Heat were missing coming off the bench.
The rest of the cast you know. The Big 3 (Lebron/Wade/Bosh) remain intact and are already looking to be in mid-season form. Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, they all return and are ready to go after a feat only 3 other franchises have ever achieved: a championship 3-peat. If there is one thing this team has left to accomplish, it is the regular season wins record. I just don't think they'll push it that hard although they return off a summer of rest. I think they ended up with 66 wins last year because the 27-game winning streak drove them to push hard to see how far they could take it, but they almost jeopardized Wade's health (he had the worst +/- of any player in the Finals at -54) and their season in doing so. This team knows its ultimate goal.
The Bulls. Oh, the Bulls. Call us here at this site homers all you want, but we know what this team is capable of when at full strength, and it is attaining what the Heat have. Outside of Rose they may not have the top-end talent, even though 3 of the other 4 starters rank very high at their individual positions. Regardless, this team is a well-oiled machine that gives it their all every night even if it tragically kills them in the long run.
The Bulls come in fresh off their Preseason Championship (8-0, boyyyyyy) and are looking to make a statement in Miami right off the bat in front of a national viewing audience. Opening Night will finally be the unveiling of the Noah/Booz/Deng/Butler/Rose lineup. This will be a tough environment to debut a lineup that has never played together before as the Heat are one team who can match the Bulls' defensive intensity. Still, confidence should be high that Thibs has this team ready to go now (not like Jo ever needed a reason to get up for these types of games) and they hold the wildcard: one Derrick Rose.
The Heat haven't faced this team with Rose in a while. They can't rely on the familiarity they developed last season in playing the Bulls 9 times between the regular season and playoffs. Rose adds an offensive element to the Bulls' grind-it-out style that the Heat must adjust to. It'll be very interesting to see how the Heat approach Rose's return, whether they decide to trap Rose up high or clog the paint for Rose drives, something the Heat do well. If the Bulls want to win this game, they'll have to maximize the new elements of their offense, move the ball from side to side and find open threes, an area the Heat are susceptible in defending. The Bulls will have to be careful in swinging the ball because while the Heat do well at clogging the middle, they play passing lanes well, especially when you have a guy like Lebron who covers so much ground. The Heat might also come out and test Rose's health and conditioning with possibly some early traps to see where his lateral quickness is at and probably by welcoming drives into the paint to get some bodies on him.
This game is just too perfect to start the season. With the return of Rose these are the two teams everyone wants to see face off and we get treated to that in the very first game. I'm pumped, Bulls fans are pumped, Heat fans are pumped, and I think the Bulls themselves will be pumped as well and that is why I'm calling for a Bulls victory tonight. While the Heat will definitely be stoked on their Ring Night at home I feel the Bulls want this game more and will come out playing focused and hard. Whatever you might think that says figuratively about the Bulls because championships are won in June, not October, make no mistake that these Chicago Bulls want to let the Heat know right here, right now... we're coming.
Tipoff at 7PM CST on TNT.