As you may have heard, the Miami Heat are now six games away from matching the longest winning streak in NBA history, set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72. They'll put it on the line on Wednesday at the United Center vs. the Bulls. The Bulls have always played well against the Heat in the regular season, even when short-handed. It's something to tell yourself so not to become prematurely resigned to the outcome.
The Bulls, of course, swept Miami 3-0 in Derrick Rose's MVP regular season of 2010-2011 before losing in five games in the Eastern Conference finals. The Bulls went went 2-2 against Miami last year and the games weren't lacking any drama. You'll remember LeBron literally jumping over John Lucas III to finish an alley-oop in Miami's first victory. You'll remember Lucas impossibly spearheading a Chicago victory in the second meeting when he scored 24 points. He did this:
Rose played the third meeting but shot 1-for-13 from the floor. Fortunately, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver -- bless their hearts -- caught fire and the Bulls somehow squeaked out an overtime victory at the UC. The Heat won the fourth game at the very end of the year in an ugly and low scoring contest that Rose also missed.
The Heat have entered that rarefied zone where playing them amounts to every opponent's Super Bowl and the Bulls will be no different. Of course, while the players are embracing it, Tom Thibodeau continues to deny it. The contradiction is hilarious. Players first, from Friedell:
"Who doesn't want to beat Miami?" Bulls forward Jimmy Butler admitted. "One of the best records in the league, great players, but more than anything we just want to protect our home floor and win as many games as possible and just keep pushing and get that momentum going into the playoffs."
With or without the presence of the streak, Bulls forward Luol Deng believes the Heat matchup would be viewed the same within the locker room.
"If they were coming in and they don't have the record, I think it still would be a big game," Deng said.
And now Thibodeau's take, via the K.C. Johnson:
Nevertheless, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau needed just one syllable when asked if Wednesday's matchup is any different because of the gravity of history.
"No," he said.
The Bulls could certainly use Joakim Noah in the lineup on Wednesday. He's missed the last two games with plantar fasciitis but is still considered day-to-day. I would be surprised if Noah didn't play given how well he was moving before deciding to sit out in Chicago victories on Saturday and Sunday. Noah has always had a little contempt in his heart for the Heat; it's just part of the reason we all love him so much. If Noah can't go, perhaps Thibodeau will play Deng more at the four and stick Jimmy Butler on Wade (who plans on returning) to counter the Heat's potent small ball lineup.
So, let's start this off with a simple question: where's B-a-B's confidence at? Can the Bulls actually pull this off? Can they at least keep it close?
Bonus reading: the great Zach Lowe on Miami's evolution and what makes them so good. Every Zach Lowe piece is a gift, I tell you.