UPDATE: Both Wade and Butler are out of the starting lineup for tonight’s game, a disciplinary move by Fred Hoiberg. McDermott and Zipser will start.
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This is not a comedy routine. This portion of the program is also not an AOL chat room where the audience can interject and interrupt. With that being said... stop me if you've heard this one before: the Miami Heat, currently on the longest winning streak in the NBA, come into frosty Chicago to face the Bulls. Déjà vu, anyone? Well, that's because it was almost four years ago that we faced this same scenario as the Heat entered that contest riding a 27-game winning streak and the Bulls, sans Rose, sans Noah, sans Meatballs, sans Rip, proceeded to streak-bust in one of the most memorable nights in recent history (if you're a Bulls fan). While many an arrogant Heat fan took to social media and pompously proclaimed this minor blip on their "dynasty's" radar as the "Finals for the Bulls", I simply recall the pure joy and excitement as, while watching this game in solitude, I leapt from my couch when Captain Kirk ripped the rock away from Chris Bosh in the waning minutes, symbolically denying the Heat their pursuit of history. Fists were pumping, teeth were clenched, neck veins bulging. It was glorious. That game preview back then had a familiar author. If you care to take a trip down memory lane, read through the comments.
What a difference four years makes. Some of us are just a tad bit more grey. The Cavs have a championship. Donald Trump is president. Yet, so much is still the same. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are not walking through that door wearing Bulls uniforms. Even though a
grittier more formidable squad back then, the Bulls are still middling. And the Heat are the hottest team in the league. Seriously, I'm not kidding. Look it up! The Heat (and Spurs) own the NBA's longest current winning streak at 5 games; a much more modest streak than the 27 the Heat were riding in those golden days. Thing is, the Heat still have the 4th-most losses as well. A small peak in an otherwise valley of a season for the Miami Heat? We'll see.
This game couldn't come at a better time. Dwyane Wade's former franchise is prospering at the moment while the Bulls are suffering a Rondo-induced implosion. It's a perfect storm. No one should be surprised at all if in the middle of this game Wade took a folding chair to Rondo's head and ripped off his Bulls jersey to reveal a Heat one under it, WWE style.
This run for the Heat began with a home win against the Houston Rockets and includes victories over the Bucks (who will own the Bulls for the next decade, it seems) and Warriors. Yes, THOSE Warriors. The two most recent wins have been particularly exciting, with Dion Waiters providing the heroics to down the Dubs, and then again the following game to overcome the Nets and Brook Lopez's 3-point barrage. Waiters was brought in by the Heat as a cheap plug-in to replace Wade after his departure from Miami. After missing a 20-game stretch earlier in the season Waiters has delivered during this recent run of success, averaging a shade under 24 points a game on 56% shooting, 60% from deep.
Let's not get it twisted here. This edition of the Heat is devoid of elite talent. NBA discards such as Wayne Ellington and James Johnson, as well as unknowns like "Showtime" Willie Reed, Rodney McGruder, and some dude named Okaro White (WHO???) are getting significant burn. Justise Winslow is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Tyler Johnson, who has lived up to the hefty contract he signed this past summer, is also dealing with a shoulder issue; the same shoulder he missed most of last season nursing. Though the injury is reported to not be serious he is not making the trip with the team, so that is a point of concern. The Heat's two current mainstays, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, along with a stable coach in Erik Spoelstra, are just about the only reliable entities on this team currently. And Whiteside has been inconsistent at best as of late. After missing 4 games a couple weeks back Whiteside has been up-and-down during these wins, bottoming out in their last win with a lowly 7 points, 1(!) rebound, posting a -30 plus/minus. In fact, just before posting this it has been announced that Whiteside will not play tonight due to an ankle issue. So there you go. Luckily Dragic has balanced Whiteside's struggles by posting 19.5 PPG and 6.3 APG, both the 2nd-highest marks of his 8-year career.
Erik Spoelstra deserves some credit here. Outside of Pop in San Antonio, he is the longest-tenured head coach in the NBA, surviving criticism at different points throughout, especially that first year under the high expectations of the Big 3. Spo's leadership remains buoyed by a supportive front office and ownership, leaving no questions as to who is in charge of the locker room. While the Heat's offense is bottom 5 this year they sport a top-10 defense with a piecemeal roster, a testament to Spoelstra and his staff staying the course as well as not losing the locker room amid all their losses.
Who wins tonight? This is the last meeting of the season between these two with the Bulls winning the first two by a combined 8 points. In fact, aside from their record, both of these teams suffer from similarly-performing offenses. Both are bottom of the league in EFG% and TS%, with the Bulls dead last in both categories. More to the point, these offenses are almost mirror images, with similar AST% as well as TOV%, playing at a nearly-identical pace. It seems the only thing separating them is the Bulls' league-leading offensive rebounding contributing to some extra looks a game. If the Heat's defense can stifle the Bulls while their recent offensive output continues to perform as a net-positive Chicago could very well be staring at a loss. It is just so difficult to predict which Bulls team will show up at this point, given the current turmoil in the locker room. The Bulls are also consistently inconsistent no matter the opponent, as proven by their 12-12 record against +.500 teams and 11-12 mark against sub-.500 teams. So while signature wins versus the Cavs and Spurs are nice and all they crap the bed against the Mavs and Lakers but then conversely lose to the teams they should and beat the ones they are supposed to beat. It is the definition of Jekyll & Hyde.
It'll be interesting to see how Fred handles the current discord. MCW, after starting a string of 12 games following Rondo's benching, has now received consecutive DNPs. The Bulls' point guard position is an utter trainwreck and your guess is as good as mine as to who gets the minutes tonight. Maybe Fred just steps aside and lets Wade be veterany and Jimmy leadery. All hail Jimmy Butler, Bulls player/coach. All of this just doesn't look good for the Bulls and I get the bad feeling they are going to embarrass themselves tonight.
This game was originally slated to broadcast on ESPN. However, it seems the four-letter network saved the Bulls some humiliation by flexing this game out in favor of Rockets-Sixers. Then again, the NBA does love storylines and this Bulls locker room riff is getting a lot of attention. That, coupled with a game against the very franchise Wade spurned in the summer, makes for some juicy drama that national TV audiences will be missing out on. Head to your local broadcaster to catch the action instead, beginning at 7PM CST from the United Center. Go Bulls(?)