The Bulls and Heat renew their rivalry in a late starting game on TNT tonight. The Heat are coming off an overtime loss to the Magic where LeBron James willed the Magic to win with his ineffective fourth quarter and overtime play while the Bulls had a day off in which Rose limped away from film session before getting into a minor car accident. Oh yeah, he was also fined 25k for his thoughts about the refs screwing him over. Cue Daniel Powter.
Loul Deng practiced on Tuesday and is likely to play against Miami as long as he doesn't have a set back today from yesterday's practice.
Derrick Rose was expected to play prior to the car accident which has been deemed minor and presumably will still be ready to go tonight. His missed practice reportedly due to wear and tear and not a continuation of the back and toe injuries that plagued him earlier.
C.J. Watson didn't practice Tuesday, but Tom Thibodeau noted he still has some chance to play if he feels good at game time.
The Heat will be without Mike Miller who sprained his ankle a few days ago and is not traveling with the team.
What are Miami's weaknesses
Miami doesn't have a whole lot of weaknesses. They're a tremendous team, and the weaknesses they do have are difficult to exploit.
LeBron can get psyched out
When he's feeling confident, he simply can't be stopped and can barely be contained. Unfortunately for Chicago, the Bulls are a team LeBron has generally exuded confidence against. Last night he looked scared as hell of Dwight Howard in the paint when he drove, couldn't shoot and even passed the ball poorly.
The Bulls don't see that LeBron often, but if they want to see him the key will be to get him off his game early to get the mental wheels turning. That said, it's a chicken and egg argument. For LeBron to play poorly you need to get him to play poorly. Unfortunately, he already believes he owns Chicago and will likely come out strong as he has in the past.
LeBron and Wade still have no two man game
Imagine if Miami had a real coach? Maybe they kept Spoelstra to keep it fair for the rest of the league. Watching the Heat play in a close game the lack of coaching is almost laughable. They are still basically rolling the ball out while James and Wade shrug their shoulders at each other trying to decide who's turn it is to run an isolation.
It's tough to create an offense centered around two perimeter players who require the ball in their hands, so perhaps its not entirely fair to rip on Spoelstra, but the fact that the Heat offense tends to shift into a pure isolation oriented offense in tight situations does fit in well with Chicago's defensive strengths in stopping isolation offenses.
Lack of post defense/offense
Miami doesn't have a ton of size or strength in the post, however, the Bulls aren't well equipped to do anything about it. Bosh can still defend Boozer and Noah is respectable enough for a few possessions here and there but certainly not skilled enough down low to take over a game.
On offense, Miami isn't going to get much out of the low post, but quite frankly, the rules no longer favor a low post oriented team anyway, so they aren't missing out on much.
Keys to the game
First and foremost, Chicago needs Derrick to play well
There's at least some doubt as to whether he'll play at all, but knowing Rose, he'll do just about anything to play in this game. That said walking out there if he's not in physical condition to play will do little good and likely just cause a string of losses in the upcoming games.
The Bulls not only need Rose to play, but they need him to play at his best. Unfortunately, Miami has the perimeter defense to successfully blitz Rose if the rest of the Bulls don't step up and make them pay for it. Something which the cast was unable to do in the playoffs last season.
I know there will be some talk about LeBron defending Rose. I think this is somewhat overrated. Rose can beat LeBron off the dribble fairly easily if they're in isolation. The problem comes when Miami double teams with LeBron (or Wade) as part of the double. That's a ton of athleticism to deal with if there's a secondary helper as well.
However, despite Rose missing those two jumpers in game four which led to the "LeBron can defend Rose" mantra, he did get back to back open mid range shots against LeBron. Both of which were FAR easier than the shot he hit against Brandon Jennings to win the game a few days ago.
Who steps up?
Can Luol Deng come back and have a quality shooting night? Can Taj Gibson continue to be a monster on the glass? Can Carlos Boozer knock down his jumper like he has the past few games? Will Joakim Noah continue his hot play? Will we get the automatic Kyle Korver or the brick open shots Kyle Korver?
These are the guys the Bulls need to step up their play around Derrick and none of them are consistent. In the playoffs, virtually none of them stepped up. If we're going to note that LeBron can get psyched out, then it's only fair to note every single Bulls player outside of Rose was shitting their pants last playoffs, scared as hell to touch the ball.
The Bulls need to play with confidence or this thing is over. If they get to a late game scenario and everyone but Rose views the basketball as a hot potato then they're not going anywhere. These guys need to take and make their open shots for Chicago to stand a chance.
To offensive rebound or not to offensive rebound?
The Bulls can crush teams by pounding the offensive glass, unfortunately when a team attacks the offensive glass and fails it opens itself up to transition attacks. The Miami Heat have the best transition game in the NBA, one of the best I've ever seen. If the Bulls play to their strengths, they also open up Miami to play to their strengths as well.
Chicago will need to be careful about when and how it attacks the glass. Their shooters who take spot up shots from the corners need to immediately start heading back on defense rather than posing after the shot or following it in. Chicago can probably afford to send one big man to the glass, but they need at least three guys sprinting back on D every play to stop the Heat from cruising in transition.
Seed at stake?
Presently, Chicago has a half game lead in the loss column and a two and a half game lead overall. However, the lead in the wins column is relatively meaningless, and Chicago's going to finish the season with a brutal schedule. The Bulls don't need to beat Miami this game in order to grab the #1 seed, but they probably will need to split the season series at two a piece.
Could Chicago lose tonight and win the next two? Sure. Anything's possible. However, you certainly wouldn't place money on it. As such, the game tonight has pretty important seeding aspects. If the Bulls can go up two games in the loss column to Miami it gives them some wiggle room as they fight through a tough schedule the rest of the year.
If they fall to Miami tonight, they'll still be tied in the loss column, but will likely lose the tie breaker if the teams end up tied at the end of the year. They'll obviously still have a decent shot at the #1 seed, but their path towards it will become much tougher.
It's hard to go into a Bulls / Heat matchup expecting a win. Chicago can beat Miami, but Miami is the favorite unless Chicago can prove otherwise in the playoffs. Chicago played them close last game and perhaps would have won in Miami without Deng if it weren't for Rose's missed free throws, but it was a massive choke job at the end by the Heat that allowed Chicago to sneak back into a game the Heat controlled for almost the entire time.
Will Chicago find a way to get it done tonight? I'd like to think so, but it's tough to beat Miami in any circumstances and even tougher when your two best perimeter players are banged up to the point they might sit out if it were a different opponent.