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Game Thread #20: Bulls vs. Miami Heat

Well, this game has gone from just a huge test for the Bulls to a league-wide-hype-show, as the new boss in Miami is (the same as the old boss) Pat Riley.

Not only that, but Shaquille O'Neal just played his first game in a month, coming off the bench and playing 23 minutes in an overtime win over Washington. I only saw the highlights, but Shaq clearly looked slow, even moreso that usual. I'm surprised he didn't take a longer vacation, since judging by his offseason regiment of curling triple-cheesburgers, he seems content with his $100m extension and doesn't see much need in trying 'till the playoffs.

While deserving of such a pot-shot, Shaq still dwarfs over the Bulls front line, so any advantage gained by not having him at full strength is much needed. Combine him with shot-blocker extraordinaire and perennial "Biggest Douche in the Universe" candidate Alonzo Mourning and the Bulls may have even more trouble establishing an inside game than usual. You never know, some deft moves by Mike Sweetney could get the lumbering Shaq and block-happy Mourning into foul trouble. But I'm guessing poor Mike won't be getting much benefit of the doubt against those two.

The Heat are 9th in the league in defensive efficiency (Bulls are 14th), and 14th in offensive efficiency (Bulls 24th), but you wouldn't know it reading Lane Mitnick's Crazy from the Heat on Saturday:

Things are not going well. Wade is doing all he can, 37 pts last night against the Nuggets. The Heat defense, a franchise hallmark for at least 10 years is ashambles. James Posey was brought in with a reputation as being a lock down defender -- where is it? Carmelo Anthony, granted, just about as talented a scorer at the small forward position as there is had 40 points on him last night. Udonis Haslem -- I know he had a great year last year as a complimentary piece next to Shaq, but right now he has been rather pedestrian. Those two combined for 3-12 shooting and 10 points against the Nugs.

Also noting a lack of effort by Gary Payton, Lane played the role of soothsayer:

Hopefully it'll all blow over, but you wonder if these veterans respect SVG and his coaching acumen, knowing Riley is in the wings. Just a thought.

Well with GM now on the sidelines, it's tough to say if they're better suited for a late playoff run, but for this one game the Heat will definately play with some added aggressiveness.

This has me extremely worried about Tuesday night's game, as usually I'd count on a team like the Heat mailing it in while the Bulls out-work them like they've done to so many other 'more talented' teams.  But even with a half-assed (well...half assed effort, double-assed size) Shaq, they have the weapons where a full out effort could bury the Bulls.

At least the Bulls should be at full strength. Tyson Chandler's supposedly feeling better and Ben Gordon is reportedly going to play after a knee injury caused him to miss two games over the weekend. With Hinrich likely spending most of his day defending like crazy against Dwayne Wade (effectiveness to be determined), Gordon will need to pick up the scoring slack. If Gordon, the suddenly dead-eye Andres Nocioni, and the streaky Chris Duhon shoot well, they can really take advantage of defensive liabilities like Payton, Jason Williams, and Antoine Walker.

The effort advantage will likely not be there in Riley's return, so the Bulls will simply need to be more effective.