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Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat game preview, lineups, injury report

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Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks to Bullieving in Miami for today's game preview -yfbb]

Fresh off a home win versus Western contender Portland on Friday the Bulls head down to South Beach to face another contender in the Miami Heat.

...Hahahahaha!!!

Sorry, I couldn't hold a straight face any longer.

Unless you've been subletting in Kirk's well for the last six months you probably heard that Lebron James rode his bike all the way back to Cleveland after the Heat's loss to the Spurs in the Finals last season in his ongoing effort to be universally adored. Safe to say the Heat (11-12) are a considerably lesser team than the one we saw the past four seasons. Still, that won't stop the local radio stations from trying to pique audience interest by throwing in phrases like "as the Heat seek their 5th straight Eastern Conference crown" into their promos. Seriously, were the Bulls trying to tout themselves as a team seeking a 4th straight trip to the Finals in 1999? Maybe in Jerry's mind, since organizations win championships and all.

In all seriousness, the departure of Lebron from this squad cannot be overstated despite the fact his defensive stats have been slowly declining over the last 3 seasons. Lebron did so much for the Heat while he was on the court during their 4-year run it is just impossible to replace that kind of impact in a lineup. So the Heat retooled quickly after King James's exodus. They've tried to assemble a roster which will win with more of an ensemble effort. Unfortunately for them that just hasn't been the case with some of their expected major contributors all missing some time in this still relatively young season. Dwyane Wade, Chris "Birdman" Andersen, Udonis Haslem, along with free agent pickups Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger have all missed games for varied reasons with Granger being the most negligent, having missed all but 6 games and not being very effective in those appearances anyway, averaging 4 PPG on 33% shooting from the field.

Honestly, the Heat's offense hasn't been so much the problem. They are 6th in the league in FG% (46.6) and 9th from beyond the arc (37.1%) on a healthy amount of attempts from that range (22 3PA/game). The Heat's offensive struggles have come in not getting enough easy looks at the rim. After Lebron "announced his decision" the Heat quickly resigned Chris Bosh in the hopes he could regain some of his form from his Toronto days and work in the post a little more. It hasn't exactly worked out that way as the Boshtrich remains very much a mid-range shooter averaging over 7 PPG on catch-and-shoot opportunities while only getting under 5 PPG from drives and close shots combined. It all adds up to the Heat ranking next to last in Points in the Paint. Quite simply Miami will struggle to get easy looks without Lebron driving to the basket for either a scoring opportunity for himself or an easy bucket off a dish to a cutting teammate like Wade or Andersen.

It is really the Heat's defense that has taken a nosedive. While they surrender less points per game than even the Bulls (though we're all familiar with the Bulls' struggles on that end thus far) the Heat are just 6th from the bottom of the league in Defensive Efficiency, giving up 107.1 per 100 possessions. The Bulls, by comparison, post a 102.3 in that category. Remember this is a team that, like the Bulls, have been in the top 5 in defense over the last 4 years. (Interestingly, the Golden State Warriors are tops in DefRtg at 94.6 while still playing at the second-fastest pace in the league. It's early, but they may be taking aim at the record for longest winning streak. I digress.) The Heat still are not a good rebounding team (46.6 REB%, last in the NBA) and thus will have a hard time limiting opponents' chances, a deadly combination as they are 4th- and 8th-worst in opponent FG% and 3pt% respectively.

As was the case with the Bulls coming off the Circus Trip the schedule makers did the Miami Heat no favors with only one day off after having returned from a 5-game road trip in which they went 2-3. Eh, who knows, maybe we are in store for another double-OT thriller. Better yet let's not live through this again.

Speaking of Wade, talk of his impending decline still has not come to fruition. Although his athleticism is definitely not what it used to be, Dwyane Wade continues to put up impressive numbers. After missing 7 consecutive games earlier in the season due to a hamstring issue (sound familiar?) he returned to the lineup two weeks ago and has put up spectacular numbers, including a season-high 29 points in Utah on Friday in a game he was questionable to play in after suffering from flu-like symptoms all day (they must be getting real tired of that in Salt Lake City). He is averaging more points than last year when the team had him on a "maintenance program" and is still doing it on a very efficient 52.5 FG%, which speaks volumes of his craftiness and creativity as a scorer. He's also shooting 40% from downtown, albeit on a small number of attempts, less than one per game. Indeed, Wade is still a great player that a team simply can not lose track of out there on the court. I'm hoping for a heavy dose of Jimmy D. Buckets (the D stands for Denies) on Wade today when he is on the floor.

Some other players of note on the Heat include our first look at old friend Luol Deng in a Heat uni. I'm still not used to it. I feel fans have been lukewarm on Lu. Really, he just isn't talked about much down here, almost as though he is an afterthought on this team when in reality he was signed to be a major contributor and a passable Lebron replacement. Although his shooting percentages are up (50% FG and 39% on threes) he is posting his lowest points average since his rookie season. Deng just isn't getting enough opportunities as his shot attempts are down and his minutes are considerably reduced, but that'll happen when you no longer play for Thibs.

If he plays also keep an eye out for James Ennis. He is still a developmental players but displays good tools and exceptional athletic ability. After finally stringing some games together McBob, another offseason signing the Heat were hoping would be a big contributor, has been hampered by an injury he suffered against the Suns during their recent road trip. He did not play in Utah and it is unclear if he'll suit up tonight. If that is the case look for Miami to trot out the same lineup they did on Friday of Bosh, Deng, Justin Hamilton (who??), Wade, and Norris Cole, who has been inserted into the starting lineup this year with Mario Chalmers coming off the bench as a combo guard. I was also hoping we'd get a good look at Shabazz Napier, the rookie from UConn who rumor has it they drafted because Lebron really liked him (LOL) but alas he just got sent down to the D-League along with some guy named Hassan Whiteside.

Assuming Joakim Noah remains out due to the knee or ankle or whatever is ailing him these days, expect to see the same starting lineup from the Bulls (14-8) we've seen the last few games of Pau, Taj, Dun-Dun, Jimmy, and Rose. It'll be very interesting to watch Derrick tonight has he is finally stringing some games together and may be hitting his stride as he has come on the last few games after beginning to limit his 3-point chucks, er, um, attempts. I'm hoping the Bulls attack the Heat inside where even though they are OK in limiting points in the paint and Chris Bosh can be at times underrated as a defender the Bulls can take advantage with Pau and Taj down low.

There you have it. Even if the stakes aren't as high as they've been in the last few years between these two teams Bulls versus Heat is always a good time. Though their play can frustrate fans many Heat supporters came into the season more excited to watch this team this regular season for the unknown quantity they were in October and without the lofty championship expectations which basically made the regular season a chore for a lot of people the last couple years. The Lebron circus also seemed to wear on some of them and some players themselves have admitted that even while chasing a three-peat last season they just weren't having fun anymore. It'll be fun to see what the crowd is like in the American Airlines Arena as it is now the Bulls who come in as title hopefuls. Also, if you want a look back through the history between these two NBA.com has a cool feature which details past games between the teams. Go give it a look-see.

Tip off is at 5pm CST on WGN. Don't miss a moment of the action. Go Bulls!!!

All stats per NBA.com.