I get it. It’s REALLY cold in Chicago this week. I sympathize. I really do. While our favorite team’s home city endures record lows and wind chills approaching 60 below(!), in Miami it is a frigid 60-something...Above zero. We’re going to make it through this, everyone. And as if being a professional athlete weren’t sweet enough (y’know, fame, fortune, yadda yadda yadda), a trip to the Magic City seems to be coming at just the right time for the Chicago Brrrrs.... I mean, Bulls.
The Bulls, losers of nine of their last 10, come into Miami for their final meeting of the season against the Miami Heat. The Heat won the previous two meetings this season, games that were close... for a while, until the Bulls eventually showed their true colors as the trash team they currently are and the Heat pulled away with comfortable wins. That brings us to this third meeting, the only one in Miami, and the Bulls saving some modicum of face and avoiding a season sweep. It’s not a tough road to climb against this particular opponent. Though, I suppose ANY opponent is an immovable force for these Bulls. I mean, they lost to the post-Lebron Cavs for crying out loud!
The Heat currently stand at 24-24, floating around .500 for the majority of the season after a slow 7-13 start. That is who this team is and has been for the last 3 seasons. It’s a collection of pricey role players with a couple of young guys who are now on their first extension, and one future Hall-of-Famer on his “last dance”. ::gross::
Of note on the injury front regarding the Heat are Goran Dragic, Derrick Jones Jr., Tyler Johnson, and the previously referenced Dwyane Wade. Dragic remains out until likely after the All-Star break following surgery on his right knee. Derrick Jones Jr. looks to be out indefinitely from a knee injury suffered this past Sunday against the Knicks. Tyler Johnson is questionable, having missed the Heat’s last game with a calf ailment. Wade is also questionable for being older than dirt.
The fortunate thing for this Heat roster is they do have quality veteran depth able to absorb an injury to one of their players. With a healthy roster Coach Erik Spoelstra is truly hard-pressed to find minutes for everyone. The Heat may lack a true superstar, however, this isn’t a roster bereft of talent. One thru thirteen, they have decent NBA veterans up and down the lineups. Yet, the fact that this bunch can’t play much over .500 ball over the course of multiple seasons simply highlights the need for star talent in the NBA. They still find themselves thrown into the mix of any possible trade for a disgruntled star somewhere, and thinning the roster in the name of getting a star would do wonders for this Heat team. However, recent history says those opportunities keep slipping through their fingers. Even though they aren’t the ones sitting behind the GM desk, many Heat fans would be reticent to give up a Justise Winslow or Bulls-killer Josh Richardson. To that I say: those same players, no longer first- or second-year players are the ones who have you treading water at .500. Why not take a leap and give some to get a real gamechanger... In some ways, the Heat might actually be in a worse spot than the Bulls. They are capped out, have a bunch of mid-tier players that they can’t quite parlay into a star, and can only hope for a second round playoff showing at best, while at least the Bulls are losing so hard they are assured another shot at a top rookie talent in this coming June’s draft.
Speaking of Justise Winslow, he’s developed this season in a way that I did not anticipate. Always a stout defender, Winslow is proving himself to be an adequate playmaker. The injury to Dragic forced Spoelstra to try new approaches with a lack of another true point guard on the team. Enter Winslow, who may not be your traditional PG, but possesses enough savvy to initiate offense for the Heat. Winslow is averaging career highs almost completely across the board, including over 4 assists per contest as well as just under 40% from three on double the attempts per game as any of his previous seasons (3.6 3PA). While I wouldn’t commit to Winslow as a full-time PG, he’s definitely made Dragic expendable to trade if he were able to return before the deadline. The Heat have enough capable ballhandlers in Winslow, Richardson, Wade, and even Dion Waiters to get by the rest of the season.
As has been discussed on this board the Bulls seem to do best when they get out and run. This is one of the youngest rosters in the league. Use those young legs. Don’t get me wrong: I still appreciate good post play every once in a while. However, the modern NBA is played at a higher pace as teams hurry to look for an open look from downtown. The Bulls do not possess the quality of players to wedge their own style into the modern game. Instead, keep up with the Curries. If you look at Pace, only 3 of the 10 youngest teams in the league place in the bottom third. There is no reason for these Bulls to be in that bottom third group. Running got the Bulls a halftime lead in their last contest against the Heat just 11 days ago before getting throttled in the second half as the Bulls wasted entire shot clocks trying to force-feed the ball into Bobby P, Lauri, and Jabari Parker in the post, resulting in nothing on offense. The Bulls are fortunate enough to escape the deep Chicago freeze with fully functioning legs. Use them!
The action tips off tonight at 6:30pm CST. Hopefully you all have the heater on and some warm tea to get you through. Stay safe.
[thanks BULLieving in Miami for today’s preview! -yfbb]