Professionalism. Try-hardidness. Dare I say... grit. All nice things to think about your favorite team, even in the midst of a down year (to put it lightly). However, when do all those clichés fall apart and you just have a collection of players awaiting the next direct deposit into their bank account? At what point do you accept that they are going through the motions? I don't think we've gotten there yet with this Bulls squad, despite blowout loss after blowout loss. I'm sure most of these guys are at the very least still trying to "audition" for more permanent NBA gigs, even if it's not with the Bulls. I mean, would you want to be tied to this team long-term, as it currently stands and forecasts in the near future? Even then, it is hard to remain professional when the head coach may look the part but has the acumen of anything BUT an NBA coach and the front office gets trolled by fans and jettisoned second-round picks alike.
That is how we arrive here, as the league-worst 3-14 Bulls return home to host the 9-9 Miami Heat. After some early struggles the Heat have been hitting their stride lately, winners of 3 of 4, including quality wins over the Wiz, ending the Celts streak, and defeating our favorite non-Bulls franchise, the Timberwolves, in Minny Friday night. Miami continues to search for the moment that carried them on their 30-11 second half run last season, yet haven't found consistency, which has prompted head coach Erik Spoelstra to show a little frustration with his team. However, given their recent string of success, coming into Chicago to face this Bulls team might be exactly what is needed to carry that momentum forward.
The Heat continue to figure out their lineup. After some tinkering earlier in the season they might be settling on Justise Winslow as their starting PF and defining Kelly Olynyk's role as coming off the bench. Winslow's shooting has greatly improved, shooting over 50% in his last four. As a stout defender the Heat don't need him to be scoring lights out, and he can definitely body with modern PFs. Where the Heat should be getting their shooting from in their starting lineup is Josh Richardson, who continues to find the stroke he had his rookie season, and whom I feel is better suited at SG instead of SF, where he's been getting the bulk of his minutes. Also, Goran Dragic continues to shoot well from outside and Dion Waiters can catch fire at times. Oh, and I have to mention that Hassan Whiteside is a perfect 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.
The conundrum for the Heat is the health of Waiters's ankle, as he continues to play through discomfort knowing surgery could possibly end his season. Though, considering he just signed a multi-year deal, go get fixed and get yourself right.
Who the Heat really miss, unexpectedly, is Rodney McGruder. Though I could never get past that name ( I mean, who can take a basketball player seriously with a name like McGruder), he emerged out of nowhere last season as a main contributor and glue guy for the Heat last year at the small forward position. With his insertion into the lineup you could send one of Richardson or Waiters to the bench to help alleviate Tyler Johnson's struggles this season. The Heat from somewhat of a logjam at the wing, with both Richardson and Waiters a fit for the starting lineup, McGruder slotting in well at the SF spot, and let's not forget Wayne Ellington and his great 3-point stroke (though best as a weapon off the bench) and Tyler Johnson, who has been a vital cog in the past for this team. As mentioned in my preview from the previous meeting between these two teams, with a lack of a true superstar to truly funnel the offense through the Heat continue to find a consistent identity.
Also not helping the Heat is their propensity to turn the ball over this season, as they rank in the bottom-10 on the season in taking care of the ball. They are a middle-of-the-road team at the moment, as suggested by their standing in all the traditional stats falling in the middle of the pack, and their record over the last 100 games dating back to last season (with basically the same roster) is exactly that, a .500 team.
Nonetheless, there is no remedy like playing the 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls. Surprisingly, being the first game home after a long road trip, this could be a prime opportunity for the Bulls to grab a win if they could force the Heat into some careless turnovers and capitalize. However, here comes the bucket of ice: a 2:30pm start on a Sunday? Even when this franchise had passable talent they always struggled with these early afternoon games. So, considering the schedule and just overall current state of Bulls basketball, expect a victory for the visiting Miami Heat. But, hey, at least we can hope for a solid effort and good showings from young guys like The Finnisher and Dunn and a quality Tank Loss. Can we just please get Zach LaVine in the lineup to witness some dazzling dunks if his knee can hold up? Wait, don't say the word "knee" around here... #RIPDRosescareer
Tune in at 2:30 pm CST on WGN for the action. And as always, head over to Hot Hot Hoops for some dialogue with folks sunbathing on South Beach in the middle of November.
[Thanks to Bullieving in Miami for today’s game preview -yfbb]