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Bulls vs. Heat preview and thread: East’s top two face off

another ‘benchmark’ matchup

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NBA: Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Your Chicago Bulls will head to South Beach in the hopes of nabbing their 40th win of the year tonight against Jimmy Butler and the mighty Miami Heat.

The top two clubs in the Eastern Conference by record will face off for the third time this season. Miami (40-21) has won its prior two contests against Chicago (39-22) this season. Both teams are missing their starting point guard tonight, but the Bulls’ other various player absences involve higher-impact players than the Heat’s.

Worryingly, the Bulls are 2-8 against the Eastern Conference’s top six teams thus far this season. With their 116-110 loss to the Grizzlies on Saturday, the Bulls also fell to a 4-6 record against the West’s best six. Of course, it doesn’t help that three of the team’s top seven players have been out for a good chunk of the season now.

Miami has looked like the class of the conference, and may be building up for its second NBA Finals run in three seasons should some stuff break right. You could say the same thing about the Bulls if they ever get whole, but Miami’s balanced defensive attack, depth and size seem to make them one of the tougher playoff outs, along with the new-look Philadelphia 76ers (who seem like a particularly impossible playoff matchup for Chicago) and perhaps the reigning champion Bucks, though Milwaukee has had an erratic go of it since the calendar flipped over to 2022.

The Heat, who will be missing Kyle Lowry tonight (not that he’s a speed demon in his age-35 season, but he’s crafty as hell), will instead start Gabe Vincent at the point, though they will most likely rely a ton on All-Star swingman and beloved ex-Bull Jimmy Butler to handle a lot of playmaking duties, with Vincent primarily functioning as a shooter and physical defender. Butler is sort of the ideal player you’d want defending DeMar DeRozan, a brilliant defender with legitimate size (6’7”, 230 pounds) and strength. Javonte Green may be tasked with guarding Butler on the other end.

Duncan Robinson, who is averaging a solid-but-unspectacular 11.4 points per game this season, has gone off in both his last games against the Bulls, averaging 21.0 points across the two contests.

Center Bam Adebayo, who has missed 25 games this year with injury issues, has been absolutely rolling of late. He is averaging 22.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks across his last ten games, and has really rounded into form since returning to the hardwood in mid-January. We saw how much trouble the defense of Steven Adams gave Nikola Vucevic this weekend. If Vucevic is at all limited by a left ankle sprain that he incurred late in the game Saturday, he may struggle to get going against Adebayo tonight. If Tristan Thompson has to start... yikes.

Injury Report:

Nikola Vucevic is questionable with a left ankle sprain, which he appeared to suffer with 1:10 left in Saturday night’s 116-110 Grizzlies loss. Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Patrick Williams remain out.

The Heat have a whole litany of injuries tonight, led by the aforementioned Lowry. Caleb Martin has been listed as questionable due to an Achilles injury.

Markieff Morris and Victor Oladipo have been long-term absences. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sentinel tweets that Oladipo, who has been out all season rehabbing from a surgery, is set to make his season debut against the Bucks on Wednesday.

Game Time:

6:30 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago

Odds:

The Heat get a slight two-point edge as of this writing. The over/under for the cumulative game score has been listed at 222.5. (All info via the Action Network)