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Game Thread #30: Bulls vs. Miami Heat

Ah the memories...remember that 42-point blowout victory against this very same Miami Heat team on opening night?

Well, apparently the Heat do as well:

Wednesday's game in Chicago is particularly meaningful. Not only can the Heat make it five victories in its last six, and not only would a victory even the record at 14-14, but it also would help take some of the sting off the 108-66 opening-night loss to the visiting Bulls.

"Obviously, if you've got any pride, as a team, if you need motivation, losing by 42 points opening night is motivation," forward Antoine Walker said. "We're much better now than we were on opening night."

And much different than on opening night.

Walker, center Shaquille O'Neal and guard Gary Payton are out of the starting lineup. Forward Dorell Wright, center Alonzo Mourning and guard Jason Williams are in.

The O'Neal-Mourning shift is due to the knee surgery that will have O'Neal out until next month. The Payton-Williams switch evolved as Williams recovered from offseason knee surgery. And the Walker-Wright change was made in response to Walker's struggles and Wright's emergence.

In addition, on opening night, center Michael Doleac was on the inactive list, and guard Jason Kapono had yet to emerge as instant offense off the bench.

While true stability won't arrive until O'Neal returns, forward James Posey can't envision anything close to that first loss to Chicago.

"You think about that. You have to give 'em credit," he said. "But once we prepare for 'em, we should do a better job this time."

This Heat team is better. Roles have been determined. In many ways, a victory at the United Center would establish a new starting point, put the Heat back on a level playing field.    

Man, the Heat are an unlikeable bunch. Shaq is a lazy turd, Walker is a loudmouth chucker, Payton is just a loudmouth (and washed up), Posey body-checked Hinrich and broke Ty Thomas' nose, Mourning's stolen money from two teams (and likely stole that kidney). Even NBA golden boy and Chicago native Dwyane Wade deserves some crap for his love-affair with the officials.

If you want to feel confident about tonight though, go back to our old friend point differential. Today, John Hollinger exposed how fortunate the Heat have been in the win column this season, given their points scored and against thus far:

Normally, a team with Memphis' victory margin would have a record of 10-19 and a team with Miami's victory margin would be 9-18. That's right -- if you're looking at the process, not the results, the Grizzlies actually have played better than the Heat. The signature play here, of course, is the blind 3-point buzzer heave by Miami's James Posey in Memphis on Dec. 2 that handed the Heat an unexpected 98-97 win and the Grizzlies one of their eighteen losses by nine or fewer points.

As I mentioned, none of this matters looking back -- the league won't be revising the standings based on my column. Where it does matter, however, is looking forward.

A lot of people think the Heat are going to be fine because they're back near .500 and shellacked the Lakers on national TV on Christmas Day. But the fact is they'll probably need to play much, much better in the next 27 games just to go 13-14 again, let alone improve on it -- and they'll be doing it against a much tougher schedule than their slate in the season's opening third.

Hey, does that mean facing the Bulls on the road is part of that tough schedule?!?! All right!

Blogging with the Enemy:  Crazy from the Heat