[Thanks to Bullieving in Miami for today’s game preview. If you’re interested in doing one, sign up and let me know -yfbb]
It is the first of four meetings between the Bulls and Heat on the year, with the season series kicking off tonight in Chicago. The Heat come in on a 4-game winning streak while the Bulls are also riding high after picking up their 5th win of the campaign Wednesday night versus the visiting Pistons.
The Miami Heat are one of the surprises of the young season. After missing out on the playoffs last season and the emotional ride that was future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade’s farewell season, this was an organization needing an infusion of star talent to transition into the next era of Heat basketball. That infusion comes in the form of our old friend, former Bull Jimmy Butler. Thus far, Jimmy is everything the Heat were hoping for. It’s not even so much that he’s come in and lit up the points column, as Butler is thus far averaging his lowest PPG since 2013-’14 at 18.7. It’s everything else, the intangibles the have helped create a clear pecking order in Miami, and the rest of the roster has bought in as roles are being clearly defined. The Heat were looking like a certain playoff team coming into the season. I, personally, thought perhaps a fifth seed. However, the Heat have been firmly entrenched in the top tier of the Eastern Conference, currently standing a half-game back of the leading Celtics and Bucks.
Where Jimmy may have been misunderstood in past locker room transgressions and those messages may have fallen on deaf ears like young Bulls players trying to fit in with an aging Wade and Rondo and Leader Jimmy, or budding stars like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, what he preaches is common practice in the Heat’s building. This organization emphasizes hustle, hard work, and commitment, all things that it seems Jimmy Butler demands of his teammates if past comments/actions are to be taken at face value.
The last time these two teams met was the final game of January in Miami, when the Bulls ran the Heat off their own court in a 105-89 win that you could say was the beginning of Chicago’s “good stretch”. That game would kick off a portion of the schedule when the Bulls would go 8-7 which, for a team that only won 22 games total on the season, is a damn good stretch. Meanwhile, the Heat went into a 3-9 slide beginning with that game which ultimately doomed their playoff hopes. Yup, losing to this current era of Bulls basketball would probably make me quit as well.
Former Heat great Hassan Whiteside exclaimed upon being traded out of Miami, “We Got Shooters!” Obviously, he was referring to his new Portland Trailblazers teammates. Yes, THOSE Blazers. The ones that just signed Carmelo Anthony. Well, I have some grave news for Hassan: your team is 5-10. And while the Blazers sport the 10th-best 3PT% in the league, the Heat are riding high at No. 2 in the NBA in accuracy from beyond the arc. When the Heat brought in Jimmy to reorganize the hierarchy of his roster, they went and put a bunch of shooters around him. As a team they are hitting just under 40% of their attempts from downtown. Five of their wing rotation players are at a clip of 38% or above. Portland may have shooters. Miami has marksmen.
Miami also enters sporting the 3rd-best defensive rating in the league, as that end of the court continues to be and has always been a staple of Heat basketball. What makes it more impressive is the Heat are doing this without Justise Winslow in the lineup the last 8 games as he deals with a concussion, while also relying on two rookies for heavy minutes. Kendrick Nunn, a product of Simeon High in Chicago, has gone from undrafted in 2018 to starter in this his rookie NBA season, opening all 13 games for the Heat and averaging over 17 points a game. Tyler Herro is a smooth-shooting guard out of Kentucky who was Miami’s late-lottery pick in this past June’s draft and has already become a Heat folklore legend.
The Heat are a deep squad playing excellent ball right now, shooting the lights out, exhibiting stout defense, moving the rock all over the court, with a great mix of veterans and youth. Guys like Kelly Olynyk and Goran Dragic (the Heat’s starting point guard of the last few seasons) have completely bought in to their bench roles. Bam Adebayo in his 3rd year has made another leap, averaging a double-double and playing a more team-oriented game that made Whiteside and his albatross contract disposable this past offseason. Addition by subtraction. Even a guy like Duncan Robinson, a G-Leaguer last year for the Heat, has stepped in to the starting five with Winslow down and put up double-digit scoring and is coming off a game where he drilled 9 triples. He and Nunn are a testament to the Heat’s player development program, where they seem to keep churning up quality NBA players while not emphasizing high draft picks.
If the Bulls stand any chance this game, they must take advantage of the Heat’s knack for turning the ball over. Miami comes in giving the ball up more than any other team in the NBA at a 19.2 per game pace. However, they take it back just the same as they lead the league in steals. This is a game that could very well be decided on points off turnovers. The Bulls have shown a knack for hanging around in games. It isn’t until the 4th quarter when they truly screw the pooch, as that is the period with their worst point differential. If the Bulls can just take care of the ball, take advantage of the Heat’s turnovers, and limit Miami’s success from the outside, this could possibly be an entertaining affair. Lauri Markkanen needs to build off his encouraging showing versus the Pistons, and Zach Lavine (who I’m about to trade away in my mind) needs to wake up. WCJ and Bam should be a fun matchup down low. The Bulls just need to hope they can keep up with the Heat’s depth, as so far in the young season there are no weak spots in this rotation to be taken advantage of.
The action tips off at 7pm CST on NBC Sports Chicago. Cruise on over to Hot Hot Hoops and give them a mouthful.