[Thanks to Bullieving in Miami for today's game preview -yfbb]
Coming off another frustrating loss to a mediocre (yet scrappy) Orlando Magic the Bulls head to steamy Miami to face off against a Heat team that is fighting for their playoff lives. Prior to a win against the Hornets on Tuesday night the Heat (35-43) had lost 7 of 9 and find themselves on the outside looking in as they stand one loss behind the Nets for the 8th seed in the East.
While many Heat fans are over this season at this point and would rather they call it a day and not even bother with the playoffs in the name of draft position and health (basically rest everyone) the Heat themselves stand proud as an organization and will have no such talk, still fielding the best lineup possible considering this team is like the walking wounded at the moment. Hassan Whiteside (you all remember him, right?) has a laceration on his hand that got stitched up and still busted open. Dwyane Wade is, well, Dwyane Wade at this point; still very effective when on the court but health is never a guarantee with him. Old friend Luol Deng had an MRI recently and many questioned whether he would play again the remainder of this season. However, he still managed to get on the floor for 41 non-Thibs minutes against Charlotte and contributed 21 points. Recently-acquired Goran Dragic has been battling back issues. Chris "Birdman" Andersen has been fighting through foot injuries all season. I think you get the idea.
It really is a shame with the Heat this season, if one can ever REALLY feel pity for the team that has represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals the last 4 seasons. Sure, they had Joakim Noah's favorite player on the team those 4 seasons. Regardless of losing Lebron to home-sickness and greed the Heat had managed to put together a very interesting starting five at the trade deadline of Dragic, Wade, Deng, Bosh, and Whiteside. Even looking forward to next season I'm very intrigued by this squad when healthy and with a few key bench additions can be a headache in the East, especially some outside shooting. But, alas, it was not written in the stars for this season as Bosh suffered a season-ending medical complication from a blood clot in his lung less than 24 hours after pulling off the trade for Dragic. As it stands they look to be likely first-round fodder in the East, at best. It's too bad because I saw a potential matchup against the Raptors as a winnable one for them and while a first-round series against the Cavs would most likely be a loss, just imagine all the story lines and drama surrounding such a series.
I know a lot of talk recently regarding our Bulls has been whether they can turn on the proverbial switch come playoff time. I'm not sure why I get this feeling that this team is just waiting for the playoffs. They have killed themselves in regular season games in recent years and I feel like they are just waiting to turn it up a gear and while their play against some of the bottom-feeding teams might not be inspiring I think they are confident they can beat any team 4 out of 7 times. I think that is a perspective us Bulls fans have been lacking lately. We get so caught up in expectations and championship hopes that we forget to just take it one step at a time. It is a process after all. Let's focus on this team being healthy heading into the playoffs and just worry about getting past the first round and then go from there.
In the meantime tonight we get treated to some potentially awful basketball (doesn't that sound EXCITING???) between the Bulls and Heat in a matchup that is always fun to watch considering the history involved with these two franchises. The Bulls trot out the starting lineup they anticipated coming into the season of Rose, Jimmy, Dun Dun, Pau, and Jo. The Heat will counter with Dragic (Goran, not Zoran), Wade, Lu, the corpse of Udonis Haslem, and Blindside. I'm sure tempers will flare, many homeless shelters will be built from the abundance of bricks, and hilarity shall ensue. I'm hoping the South Beach hangover is not a factor with the Bulls having played last night. However, that is a 10-point advantage that cannot be understated (it's been proven. take my word for it.). Plus, this is the rubber match in a season series tied at 1-1, so the stakes are unquestionably high.
OK, enough from me. Tip-off is at 7pm CST on TNT. Go Bulls!