[Thanks to BULLieving in Miami for today’s game preview. Make sure to also checkout Vijay conversing with SBNation’s Heat blog in prep for today’s game -yfbb]
As a franchise you've openly and admittedly decided to be bad before attempting to be good. That's cool. Many a professional franchise has hit rock bottom, whether by choice or otherwise, in order to begin their ascent back up the mountain. Sixers might still be at basecamp but whatever. The NFL's Indianapolis Colts "Sucked for Luck" because, hey, best QB prospect of the last decade+.
And after a brief moment of clarity that was beating the Tank-a-Hawks, our Bulls dove deeper into the bottle and were plastered by the OKC Thunder on Saturday; a quick peak up to the depths of the Mariana Trench and then right back down to depths of hell. Here we are, Wednesday, a good four days since their last game, and all I can hope for is that the Bulls immediately flew out after the game Saturday and got in a good dose of Miami nightlife for the following 3-4 nights... because nothing aids a tanking team like South Beach. Booze, debauchery, all-nighters... all help grease the tank treads.
So we arrive at another meeting of two teams who not long ago made for must-watch NBA action. Heck, even last year during the storied Wade Era of Chicago Bulls basketball was it worth tuning in to witness the drama between Old Man Flash and the only NBA franchise he had ever known.
So that was fun for like a minute, and the Heat were bad for the first half of last season's slate. 11-30. Then came the second half of the season and the Miami Heat became a thing. 30-11 in the second part of their schedule and missing out on the playoffs on the last night of the regular season by virtue of losing a tiebreaker to the woulda-beaten-Boston-if-Rondo-had-not-gotten-hurt-or-so-we-like-to-say Bulls.
After courting this summer's whale, Gordon Hayward (bullet dodged), the Heat decided to run it back with the same group and adding Kelly Olynyk to the mix, banking on healthier seasons out of Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, and Josh Richardson, as well as internal improvement. And that brings us to tonight, the Heat hosting the Bulls coming of a few nights on SoBe.
Coming into the season I actually had high hopes for the Heat considering the current state of the Eastern Conference. "Heat Culture" showed its mettle and rebounded from an abysmal first half. With a deep roster returning who wouldn't think momentum could carry over to a new season and a clean slate. However, much like how in baseball momentum is only as good as the next game's starting pitcher (Game 7 tonight, what to watch?!?), last season's late success hasn't carried over for the Heat quite yet. Granted, their opening 6 games have been against teams all currently above .500 aside from a tilt against the aforementioned Atlanta Hawks, so they've faced fair competition thus far. Still, for a team that easily goes 10-deep with competent NBA players they should be doing better than their 2-4 records shows.
First and foremost, it sounds like Hassan Whiteside will return tonight after missing the last 5 contests with a bone bruise to his left knee. He sustained it in the Heat's opening night loss at Orlando, yet still managed 26 point and 22 rebounds. That will be a nice boost to a lineup which lacks top-end talent. Perhaps that is the Heat's biggest hurdle: they lack superstar talent following the exodus of Lebron (cowardice), Wade (ageism), and Bosh (extinction) and after striking out on pursuits of Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward in consecutive summers. They do have good depth of quality players, yet lack that go-to guy that can take over a game. and while Whiteside is more than a handful inside he is a centerpiece for a bygone era of NBA basketball. Hassan Whiteside is Pat Riley's modern day Alonzo Mourning, except the game doesn't revolve around Alonzo Mournings anymore.
A bright spot in the young season so far for the Heat has been Slovenian point god Goran Dragic. The guy that once got posterized by the basketball player formerly known as Derrick Rose is in midseason form after having lead Slovenia to the top prize in this past summer's EuroBasket tournament. Dragic is so far putting up numbers on par with his career bests, averaging a shade under 20 points on 50% shooting from the field and connecting on 39% of his attempts from downtown. For as much flack as Goran has gotten for being on the wrong end of what might've been D-Rose's superstar arrival moment, he has actually been a model of consistency throughout the years. He may not distribute the ball the way you would expect from an elite PG (only at 4.2 APG this season), but he certainly shoots at a great clip, hitting at over 50% five of the last seven season including this young campaign. After a whole summer of playing at a highly competitive level you wonder about fatigue setting in, however, thus far it's been excellent returns for the Heat.
Dion Waiters is trying to continue riding the wave of brilliance he rode at times last year when he hit big shots for the Heat late in several contests. Health is the issue with him as he plays through a lingering ankle problem that derailed him last season. Kelly Olynyk has been a nice addition, posting double digit points and shooting over 52% from outside the arc, serving as a nice stretch big. The Heat are also hoping Justise Winslow can work through his shooting woes where he has not developed as they would like, only putting up 7 points with no outside shot whatsoever. James Johnson, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson are off to slow starts while being depended on to be big contributors this season.
You would hope the Bulls could put up a good showing against a Heat team playing just about as poorly as the Bulls on defense (24th in DefRtg, Bulls at 23). The thing is we are all aware of the Bulls' offensive woes, by far the worst OffRtg in the league at 91 (Kangz are next up at 95.4. yeesh). Simply put, the Heat score more and play at a faster pace, too fast for "HoiBall". After dropping their last game against Bulls fans brethren the Timberwolves, and with a 6-game road trip looming on the horizon, the Heat will be looking to grab one more home win and I expect them to do so with their full compliment of players and a much more competent coach in Erik Spoelstra. A Bulls win in Miami is always fun but priorities, people. Let us not lose sight of the path on which our glorious leaders GarPax have set us on. And while I am never one for supporting tanking because I believe a culture of losing festers within an organization, cynicism as at an all-time high here at BlogaBull, and the internet is a better place for it. Heat by 30!
Head over to Hot Hot Hoops for a chit-chat with the enemy.
Peep the action over on NBC Sports Chicago at 6:30pm CST.
All stats per NBA dot com.