[Thanks to Bullieving in Miami for today’s preview. STILL need a Wizards preview for the weekend if you’re interested -yfbb]
We've been through this one before, right? First it was MJ with the Wiz. Then it was Derrick Rose from injury the first time...and second... and third... and last Friday... and, well, you get it. And now, with Bulls fans on the other end of sorts, Dwyane Wade returns to Miami for the first time since his 13-year career with the Heat ended this summer. This is the Bulls' only visit to Miami this season and you could say by next season the nostalgia will have subsided. However, for tonight this is surely to be an emotional night for both D-Wade and for "Wade County".
What defines a city's greatest athlete? It is a difficult question to answer. Football has always been king in South Florida and so this used to be an easy answer. Dan Marino. When Wade departed the Magic City this summer that suddenly became a legit debate. Sure, Lebron James is the greatest basketball player to don a Heat uniform, but obviously he never truly belonged to Miami. It's always been different with Wade. Wade is the reason Shaq agreed to come to Miami leading to the Heat's first title as a rising star entering his second season. Wade is the reason Lebron and Bosh came to Miami (well, really, who wants to go to Clevelend or Toronto for that matter). As a Hall of Famer, arguably one of the best 3 or 4 players at his position ever, and as a superstar who helped deliver 3 championships to this city, it can very reasonably be claimed that Dwyane Wade is the greatest athlete in South Florida history. Surely the most successful (shout-out to 2-time champ, Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine). However, are championships the sole measure? Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. Does that automatically disqualify him?
If championships are the defining criteria for a city's greatest athlete, what say you of a city like Chicago? Surely Walter Payton is up on that podium as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history and has the ring to back it up. What about all the Cubs who donned the C between 1908 and 2016? Are Wrigley greats like Mr. Cub Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, or Sammy Sosa automatically out of the conversation simply because they didn't win a World Series? Frank Thomas got himself a ring as a bit player for the White Sox in 2005. Does that catapult him to the top? Thankfully Bulls fans had the honor and pleasure of witnessing the hands-down holder of the title "Greatest Chicago Athlete Ever" with MJ and his 6 rings and his place within the American sports lexicon. And when MJ returned with the Wiz, and then returned again, and returned again, at what point did the nostalgia wear off and he became in the minds of Chicagoans truly a member of the opposing team? It will be interesting to see tonight and going forward at what point that transition occurs with Wade and Heat fans. With the matchup coming so early in the season it is clearly still something very fresh in the minds and hearts of South Floridians. I personally witnessed a few of these in person...
So the Bulls lost last night in Atlanta to the Hawks in spite of Jimmy Butler's 39 points. He and Wade also became the first pair of Bulls players to have 25+ points and 5+ steals in the same game since Michael and Scottie. As I suspected this version of the Bulls would be more about the two of them rather than any nonsense regarding 3 Alphas.
The Heat enter this game losers of 4 out of their first 6 games. They came into the season with a roster full of discards the likes of Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams, and our old friend Jimmy Johns. They still maintain a core of Hassan Whiteside (averaging 17.5 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 2.5 bpg) and Goran Dragic (18 ppg, 6.2 apg). However, Josh Richardson, a player Heat fans are very optimistic about and who torched the Bulls last season is just returning from a partially torn MCL he suffered just before training camp. Tyler Johnson, after signing a very lucrative 4-year deal in the offseason as a still relatively unproven player is off to a very good start, averaging 14.5 ppg and shooting 47% on threes, and making good on that contract so far. He is a versatile swing guard on the perimeter who can give the Bulls trouble, particularly when our starting point guard is in the game.
One player struggling mightily thus far in the young season is Justice Winslow, Miami's lottery pick of a year ago. The Heat are high on him as a centerpiece of the franchise, but the early going has shown his shooting is very much a work-in-progress. While his scoring has almost doubled with a huge leap in usage his raw shooting numbers are deplorable, posting figures of 31% overall and 15% from deep. While Winslow is an excellent physical presence defensively with his strong build the Heat are hopeful he can take a leap offensively like Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler have in recent years.
This game may very be a battle of attrition simply by the Bulls not being a very good perimeter-shooting team despite the early returns on D-Wade and Jimmy G. Buckets. The Heat overall maintain a solid defensive identity with a 99.4 DRtg and do a particularly good job at limiting shots near the rim where the Bulls will look to attack. Heat opponents are only attempting 23.8 shots per game at the rim, good for the second-lowest mark in the league, while also allowing the 7th-lowest success rate on those few attempts. Simply put, with the presence of Whiteside and his shot blocking prowess Heat opponents are finding it difficult to score inside. This will make it difficult for Bulls players, specifically Butler and Taj, looking to do work inside. The Bulls just have to get out and run before the Heat's defense gets set. And as we've seen in the young season the Bulls enjoy success when they are quickly pushing the ball up the floor as Hoiberg would like them to do.
While the Bulls are on the second night of a back-to-back, I feel they win this one. I think the Heat just don't have the horses on the roster to compete with the Bulls. That's not to say the Bulls have some great roster, however, when comparing players like Wade, Butler, even Niko and Dougie versus Dragic, Winslow, and Tyler Johnson (these definitely aren't your Big 3 Era Heat), the Bulls possess better quality on the wings to complement their excellent big man rotation. Except Bobby. While all of RoLo, Taj, Niko, and Felicio are healthy and a game is still not decided Bobby Portis can stick to the bench. He is too much of a defensive liability to try to tussle with a talented big like Hassan Whiteside.
Hopefully this is an entertaining contest. It definitely doesn't lack in excitement with Wade's first game in Miami as a member of another organization. Plus there is always the possibility of #TNTBulls showing up. The emotions will be high, and who knows there might be a few tears flowing in the building as the Heat pay tribute to their greatest player.
Catch the action beginning at 7pm Central on TNT.
Tonight, Miami welcomes back its greatest athlete. Tonight, Dwyane Wade returns to his house.