[Thanks to Bullieving in Miami for today's game preview -yfbb]
Let's get the daydreaming stuff out of the way first. After winning in Orlando last night, the Pistons sit two losses ahead of the Bulls with 3 to play. Keep in mind they own the tie-breaker over the Bulls. With one less game left on their slate that is just one less opportunity to lose games to give the Bulls a chance to surpass them. And though they won the tiebreaker over Indiana, the Pacers are now 3 games ahead of the Bulls after beating a LeBron-resting Cavs team last night. So yeah, wackier things have happened... but I wouldn't go bet the mortgage on it.
That brings us to tonight's contest between the Miami Heat and our Chicago Beef Sliders. Can you smell what is cooking in Miami tonight? Erik Spoelstra's squad has handled the Bulls easily this season, winning all 3 of the previous meetings. After a tightly-contested first game back in January, when the Heat were still struggling to figure out what kind of team they would be this season and the Bulls still had delusions of postseason grandeur, Miami completely roasted the Bulls twice(!) in March. Remember way back in 2007 with all the good feels after the Bulls swept the Heat in the first round of the playoffs and they seemed like two franchises going in opposite directions. Yeah, well, since the All-Star Break this season it's been about as far in the other direction as you can go with those feels.
Since that last matchup back in March, the Heat have stumbled upon a revelation, and his name is Josh Richardson. He's the "some dude" that exploded for a career-high 22 points and helped propel the Heat to a comfortable victory in Chicago. Well, that was just the beginning of a run of success Richardson (a second-round draft pick in 2015, mind you) has enjoyed in March. After not earning much burn the first few months of the season the rookie has put in the work in the gym and benefited greatly from the Heat's excellent development program to the point where he was honored as the conference's Rookie of the Month for the month of March. Richardson is scoring in double figures since the All-Star Break, which is when he started getting minutes. He has literally burst onto the scene. In addition to his production in points he is also shooting lights out to the tune of over 60% from beyond the arc. Combine that with his rangy athleticism and the Heat have themselves another steal.
Y'know, we used to glow about the Bulls front office's knack for finds late in the draft, Taj and Jimmy being the prime examples. However, seeing how the Bulls have drafted and developed players in recent years, it might be safe to assume Taj with his work ethic and Jimmy with his drive were bound to find success in this league regardless of their landing spot coming out of college. And no doubt no team is perfect in that aspect of team-building, but go ahead and juxtapose that with what the Heat have done with late picks and finding useful players off the scrap heap. Richardson is just another player coming down the same pipeline as Hassan Whiteside (literally scooped him up at the Y) and another former second round pick (and D-Rose kryptonite) Mario Chalmers. Meanwhile, we have endured the professional dominance of Cameron Bairstow and old-man Nazr on the bench the last few seasons in Chicago.
Richardson hit a bit of a wall on the Heat's recent 3-game West Coast swing (they went 1-2 on the trip) but recovered nicely back at home against Detroit a few nights ago (I swear, they were trying to help us stay in the hunt), shooting 6-for-9 from the field, including hitting 4-of-5 from three, for 16 points.
The Heat as a team are still playing for a lot with 5 games to play. They are one of 4 teams battling for spots 3 thru 6 in the Eastern Conference bracket, currently tied with Boston and Atlanta at 32 losses, with the Hornets one loss behind. So I doubt the Heat will be taking it easy tonight. Look for the Heat to continue rolling out the Stoudemire-Deng-Johnson-Wade-Dragic lineup with Whiteside, Richardson, and Winslow the main contributors from the bench. Chris Bosh apparently is no longer dealing with the blood clot and continues to train individually, but no basketball activity yet and thus continues to miss games.
Meanwhile, the Bulls' lineup is a guessing game at this point. Rose played last game after missing a couple of games before that. They rolled out MDJ-Bobby P-Pau-Jimmy-Rose last game, so for now let's go with that as a starting lineup tonight in Miami. However, I am taking prop bets on other permutations. Hey, maybe E'Twuan returns tonight. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.
What I do know is it doesn't look so good for a Bulls win tonight. And yet it would be so Bulls to pull out a win and just keep teasing us instead of letting us all move on with our collective lives. Chances are the Heat gets turned up and we get a whole heap of beef brisket for dinner. What's worse: being Whitesided or Richardsoned?
Make sure to tune in tonight at 7pm CST on TNT. You know good-Bulls or bad-Bulls it'll be worth a good laugh.