Barring a major trade that re-balances the power in the East, the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat will be the top two teams in the conference this season.
As such, who does a shortened season benefit the most?
Loss of training camp / practice time
Both teams had on court chemistry problems last season. Miami frequently looked like a team that alternated between going to Wade and LeBron rather than having any real synergy in their games while the Bulls could never quite get things figured out with Noah and Boozer on the court at once.
Both teams could use a training camp and additional practice time to get their guys to play in harmony better, but the Bulls probably feel the sting of losing that time more so than Miami for a few reasons.
First, I believe Tom Thibodeau is simply a better coach than Eric Spoelstra. As such, I think he's doing a lot more teaching in his practices and that they are a greater part of this teams success.
Also, Wade and LeBron were healthy for the vast, vast majority of last season. They were the primary two guys with the ball all the time already and have probably spent around 2500 minutes of time on the court together in games last season.
Clearly the laws of diminishing returns on how much additional chemistry they gain with additional playing time have started to sink in already as the greatest improvements in that area probably happened by mid season last year.
On the other hand, Boozer and Noah have relatively few minutes together and didn't even get to play training camp together last season. They both missed considerable time with injury while the other was healthy limiting both the games and practice time they had together.
The Bulls depth also makes their practice time more valuable. The Bulls could play their second team against their first team and have some interesting battles in team scrimmages. I don't see the second team scoring much, but they could defend the hell out of the first team and really push them.
Miami has no method to create two balanced teams without splitting up Wade and LeBron which defeats any hope of having them improve chemistry in scrimmages to mimic game situations. However, if they play together on the practice squad than how interesting of scrimmage can you even have.
Roster turnover / Integration of new players
The Bulls, in theory, will look to add one more key piece to the puzzle this off-season. We all know they're looking to improve at the shooting guard position, and if they are able to add that piece then it will take some additional time to integrate him into the roster.
This is doubly true because we all know the Bulls need a secondary shot creator, so adding a player who can create his own shot will change the general flow of the offense more than just adding a player to fit into a more predefined niche.
The Heat will likely turn over several players on their roster, particularly in the front court where guys like Z and Dampier may not be wanted back or may have even smaller roles. However, none of those changes will impact the team like adding a scoring option like the Bulls hope to do.
Udanis Haslem missed enough of last season that it's fair to say he counts as a new player, but he'll fit into a role where he just hustles, rebounds, defends, and shoots open kick outs. There isn't much required in terms of practice time for him to fill his role or get a feel for teammates, especially since he's played with Wade most of his career.
Compressed season with more back to backs
Ultimately, I don't think a compressed scheduling of the games would mean much to either team. Both teams should rip through the regular season fairly effectively regardless of how the schedule is created.
The Bulls have the depth to rest guys if they need to, but a compressed season could be extremely wearing on Derrick Rose if the Bulls can't find a secondary offensive creator.
The Heat will likely have a lot more older players with less depth, but their stars frequently build comfortable leads.
Both teams will only be focused on what happens in the playoffs though and neither one really needs to win the conference as much as they need to hit the playoffs healthy and focused.
While a compressed season means fewer games, the risk of injury might be greater due to the less frequent rest. The Bulls are probably more prone to injury than the Heat, but injuries are too fluky to really weigh in one way or the other so we'll call it a wash.
I think Miami eeks out a slightly increased advantage in a shortened season scenario.
The Bulls have more cogs to their machine and will require more practice time and simply haven't had as many minutes to play their key cogs together to build chemistry. They're the more likely of the two teams to need to make a significant change in where their shots on the floor come from as well.
As such, they have more low lying fruit in terms of improvement left to gain than Miami, and they have a coach who's one of the best in the business at maximizing the value of his practice time.
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