[It's a Heat game, so that means Bullieving in Miami gives us another fine preview -yfbb]
Coming off two straight losses the Bulls look to escape wintery Chicago with a quick two-game roadie through Florida that begins tonight in Miami against the once-hated Heat (Knicks fans seem to like them). While the feel of these two teams might seem a bit different at the moment, they both have their share of uncertainty right now. The Heat are still currently dealing with the cloudy future of Chris Bosh. No one seems to have any update on his status as he deals with another possible blood clot in his system after missing out the second half of last season with the same condition, and thus is receiving the very Thibsian perpetual "day-to-day" until further information comes to light. That's a raw deal for Bosh who is generally regarded as a genuinely nice, eloquent dude and a tough blow to the Heat's aspirations as one of their main cogs. Really, hopefully everything works out for him long-term as while we may have clowned the guy A LOT during that whole Heatles thing I was always a fan ever since he did this.
Enough on that front. While the Heat are without Bosh, Pat Riley continues to look for ways to improve the current state of the team. Honestly, if I was him I'd be offended to have my name associated with Gar as 2011 Co-Exec of the Year. The Heat waived Beno Udrih after he was lost for the season and saved themselves some ducats. What do they do next? They go and sign possibly the best option available in the buyout market: Joe Johnson. At age 34 Johnson isn't necessarily a game changer for the Heat, however, he does bring immediate relief in an area where the Heat have been sorely lacking this season: 3-point shooting. The Heat rank dead last in this category, which is a gaping wound for any team looking to compete for a title in the Warriors' NBA. Just as a point of reference: Steph Curry's 12 made 3-pointers Saturday against OKC are more than the Heat have made AS A TEAM in 2016, and a plateau they have only reached twice this season. Logically, the Heat immediately inserted Johnson into their starting lineup Sunday in NY as the Heat look to trot out a 4-out/1-in lineup while Bosh is unavailable. Not-so-Iso-Joe still averages over double figures while shooting a respectable 37% from beyond the arc and is another veteran the Heat can play in an already deep wing rotation.
A surprising presence in the Heat's starting five over the last month or so is Amar'e Stoudemire. Amare is the lone starting big man as they continue to figure out what exactly it is they have in man-child Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside was hurt for the beginning of this current stretch, then went all Whiteside in a blowout loss to the Spurs just before the break. So the Heat are attempting to handle their athletic big-man delicately by maximizing his minutes and having him come off the bench. It will be interesting to see what the Heat do with this guy. Do you give him the max deal he is surely seeking knowing full well his skill-set is a dying breed in today's NBA? While Whiteside has shown an improved mid-range game this season he still has many holes in his game. He isn't polished at setting screens (one reason why the Heat prefer Stoudemire starting), gets out of position on defense to seek his precious blocks, and is the definition of a black hole in the post, sporting a grand total of 16 assists in 50 games this season. He also doesn't seem to fit the culture of the Heat organization. After they have apparently gotten below the tax line with the Udrih move, and depending on Chris Bosh's playing future, I might be inclined to let the impending free agent walk this offseason while some other team overpays for this knucklehead, which surely there will be desperate buyers on the market.
Back to the Heat's wings, old friend Luol Deng has found his niche post-ASB and had double-digit boards in 5 straight prior to Sunday's win against the Knicks. While his shot is off & on these days he still provides versatility as a wing with length who can still play steady D and rebounds well. Also in the fray is rookie Justise Winslow, who has shown himself to already be a top defender in this league. Some development to his offensive game and he will be a great piece for the Heat going forward. ...Shoulda been a Hornet, but, y'know, exec-MJ gonna exec-MJ.
So what can our struggling Bulls do to pick up the road win? It looks like Derrick Rose will play. However, no Jimmy and no Bosh equals no this.
First, they must shut down Dwyane Wade, who is still playing at a high-level and showing good health this year. Wade finished the Bulls off in their lone meeting this season back on Jan. 25th with 28 points. That was also one of Derrick Rose's poorer performances post-Xmas and a game in which he didn't play the second half. The Heat also prevailed sans Goran Dragic, who has also been coming on as of late, scoring 20 points in 3 of their last 5 games. Dragic didn't play in that Heat victory and the Heat still outscored the Bulls on the fastbreak. Big surprise there. Dragic will look to push the pace especially now that the Heat are only starting one traditional big and have any of Johnson, Wade, or Goran to bring up the ball.
One way to neutralize Whiteside when he enters the game is some inside passing. As previously mentioned, Whiteside is hyper-aggressive in the paint looking for blocks. If the Bulls can get the ball near the hoop they would do well to rekindle the Noah-Boozer days and make the extra pass at perhaps a weakside cutter or the other big. If Rose has any success driving to the paint he should look to go right through Whiteside in hopes of getting the bozo into foul trouble or dump it off to Taj or Pau for an easy lay-in.
I so badly want the Bulls to pull this one out as the East continues to be a jumbled mess and a win tonight would bring the Bulls to 1.5 games back of 4th in the conference, currently held by these very Heat. Force them to have to play catch-up, something they don't do well with their lack of 3-pt shooting. The Heat are a top defensive team, however, for them to be a good team they have to play all-time great defense at the rate they score. The Heat pretty much break even at +0.2 in point differential. Take care of the ball and force them to heave up some attempts from long range to control the pace of the game. And whatever the Bulls do, don't let Whiteside get his confidence going as then he becomes a menace inside. Here's to the Bulls squeaking one out in South Beach before heading up the state to take on the Magic.
Catch the action at 6:30pm CST on CSN-Chicago or NBA TV for those still paying for cable.
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