Thursday night's game against the Miami Heat is a pretty big deal. It's big for seeding, but also for confidence. Maybe moreso the fans' confidence than the players, but there's something to be said for Thibodeau's Wednesday comment that it's the Heat that the Bulls are "chasing", even if the standings say the opposite. The fact still remains: the Bulls lost a 7 game series to them in 5 games.
Things have changed, but not that much. And if the results had been different in this past year, and the Bulls won that series but were behind in this year's standings, I wouldn't be fretting if I were a Bulls fan. So getting homecourt, or whatever 'edge' is gained from a quality victory can only help. But it's just a help, not an equitable statement to what we've seen in the past.
Now, for their part, the Bulls at least showed that the Heat were quite vincible when John Lucas III helped eviscerate them in March. And the standings deficit Miami currently faces is indeed due to their play faltering a bit lately.
It may be annoying at times to see the Heat get as much coverage as they do, but on the upside is a lot of scouting and analysis to devour from that swoon, so here's some prep courtesy of the blogosphere from the past couple of weeks:
- The Boston Celtics have beaten Miami twice recently, and Dan Devine at Ball Don't Lie looks at how Boston did it on Tuesday, though the lesson may be that it's not quite repeatable:
Boston put up a stunning 17-of-29 mark (58.7 percent) on shots taken from between 16 and 23 feet away from the basket. League average from that distance? More than 20 percent lower, at 38.1 percent, with OKC again atop the league with a 43.3 percent mark...Beyond that, it's not just that the Celtics were white-hot from one area on the floor...they were ludicrous from everywhere. That's awesome, and should be commended. It just shouldn't be relied upon.
On top of that, the C's won despite letting Miami take 30 shots at the rim on Tuesday, including 20 by the combination of LeBron James (who went 6 of 9) and Dwyane Wade (8 of 11). That's what Miami wants - to get its two best creators, penetrators and finishers a ton of looks right at the basket, and let the chips fall where they may. The Celtics got away with that Tuesday night, but it took a Herculean shooting effort to do it. Even for good jump-shooting teams, and the Celtics are that, that's just not a sustainable way to beat Miami. You can't play their game, let them charge you and try to counterpunch for a full series. Eventually, as they did against Boston in last year's playoffs, they're going to get you on the chin.
- LeBron James has picked up recently where his teammates have faltered. Maybe we've been thinking about his MVP candidacy all wrong? Would Miami even be nearly this good if it wasn't for his transcendent play all season?
- To further that second point, new addition Norris Cole has fallen out of the rotation, and Shane Battier is having the worst statistical season of his career. As much as the Bulls have not had any boost from new personnel yet, Evil Genius Pat Riley hasn't done much better. (post-deadline pickup Ronny Turiaf's been OK, but mostly in that he was replacing dead weight)
- Ira Winderman calls out Dwayne Wade's recent phantom injuries in non-essential games for what they are: rest for the playoffs. And if you remember TrueHoop's earlier work suggesting that star players on contenders who happen to log heavy minutes have often not won the title, those numbers this season favor Wade, Joakim Noah, and (of course) Derrick Rose, but not so much for LeBron.
- Two slightly outdated posts that are interesting nonetheless: Tom Haberstroh (3/28) on the slowing down (and worsening) of the Heat offense, and Rob Mahoney (3/30) on how Miami persistent swarming defense can flummox their opponents.