The game was chippy early. James Jones was ejected after a pretty weak flagrant two against Joakim Noah. Dwyane Wade had a flagrant of his own as well. The Bulls played the Heat tough for most of the game, and then went in to one of those spurts.
You know the kind, the kind we see without Derrick. The kind where the Bulls play about five minutes straight without scoring. The Bulls had a couple spurts like that in the game, and it was too much to overcome.
In general, I felt the Chicago offense was getting easier looks than the Heat offense, but they shot just 35.7% from the field, outside of Noah and Gibson who combined for 9/11, the Bulls managed just 16 for 59 from the field. On top of the poor shooting, Chicago failed to secure offensive rebounds despite the absence of Chris Bosh and Ronnie Turiaf.
The performance on offense is about as bad as Chicago will ever play, even without Rose, but they were still sitting in this game until they went through a long scoring drought in the fourth quarter. A drought filled with makeable jumpers that the Bulls simply didn't make.
If you didn't see my 20+ tweets on the topic or read the corrections in either of my past two articles. I made a mistake previously in what the Bulls needed to do to clinch. I had incorrectly calculated conference record for the two teams a few weeks ago and never rechecked the work until yesterday. The Heat have all but clinched the tie breaker. The following scenarios would get Chicago the tiebreaker:
1: Chicago loss to Dallas + Miami loss to Washington or Boston
2: Milwaukee climbing into the eighth spot
Both are pretty unlikely to happen.
If Miami wins out, the Bulls also need to win out in order grab hold of the #1 seed.
The #2 seed may become a bit more appealing
If New York is able to fight its way up to #6, the #2 seed will play the Dwight Howardless Magic which is, by far, the easiest opponent in the playoffs. They'd also draw Indy/New York in round two. That route might be considerably easier than Philly + Boston, but as I've always said, the #1 seed is about home court in the ECF.
If Chicago or Miami gets knocked out before the ECF due to a tougher bracket then it wasn't their year anyway. The one benefit for Chicago to an easy first round matchup is the lingering health questions surrounding Derrick Rose.
What the hell is going on with Derrick Rose?
Rose has now missed 26 games on the season, and while no one is saying it, the foot injury is almost certainly the result of coming back too early from the ankle injury. Chicago has been reckless with what they've allowed Derrick to play through this season, and we're sitting here with just three games left wondering whether he'll be ready to suit up for the playoffs.
Like always, he's just day to day, but the fact remains he's played three times in the past five or six weeks, and he besides lacking rhythm, he also lacked the speed and explosiveness his game relies on. At this point, Chicago probably needs to count on winning the first round with Rose missing some action or playing well beneath his peak and simply hope that he rounds into form by round two and the ECF.
Did we learn much in four games against Miami?
I think we learned the following:
1: LeBron owns the Bulls. He just makes tons of ridiculous shots against Chicago.
2: The Heat haven't improved at all this year, they have the same problems as last year.
3: If Chicago brings its A game, they can beat them in a series.
I used to think that if the Heat and Bulls both played at their best that the Heat would win. Ignoring the fact that this is impossible because the losing team would never look like it played at is best since the best of both teams includes great defense, I no longer believe this is true.
If Chicago brings its best game, I think it's a toss up. They've shown that they can limit Miami's transition opportunities, and they've shown they can force Miami into really difficult shots for games at a time.
The best exmaple of this is when Shane Battier knocked down the open three which put the nail in the coffin for Chicago. As the ball left his hands, my brain had three thoughts at once: "How could you leave him open?" "We're screwed." and "Huh, that's the first open shot they've had in about 10 minutes".
Even after Miami won a big game without Bosh, my fear of the Heat dropped after this game. They struggled to put away a Chicago team that was without Rose and couldn't throw the ball in the ocean.
Big game on Saturday
With the Bulls needing to win out to chase the #1 seed, the Saturday game against the Mavericks is key. Derrick Rose will likely miss the game making it a difficult contest for Chicago. Dallas has clinched a playoff spot [updated, originally had this wrong] and can't move up. Given that, they are only playing to see whether they match up against San Antonio, L.A., or Oklahoma City in the first round.
After Dallas, Chicago has three days off before finishing the season on a back to back with @Indiana and Cleveland. If Rose isn't healthy at that point, the Bulls are likely in big trouble for their playoff run this season.