The Bulls became a great story by taking game one with a depleted roster and Nate Robinson outplaying LeBron James. Many things went right for Chicago in game one, including the Heat missing many wide open corner threes taken by quality three point shooters. Chicago will have to hope to improve on the formula that brought them a game one victory, because the Heat are likely to bring it tonight.
Luol Deng is still in the hospital. Kirk Hinrich can still barely move though the discoloration and swelling in his leg from the internal bleeding has improved.
In short, don't expect either guy to be back for game two, and as I noted previously, if they're out the whole series it shouldn't surprise anyone. The Bulls will need to continue to find a formula to win without them as unlikely as that seems.
My brain says 1-4 Heat series win. The Bulls don't have the talent, depth, or health to hang with Miami. Sure, they won a game against a team rusty from a long layoff that clearly looked like it didn't apply itself in game one. How will they fare against the Heat's best shot? Logic insists, not well.
Given the talent disparity and injury situation any win the Bulls pull off against the Heat is a miracle.
Meet Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, and Joakim Noah, miracle makers
Someone forgot to tell Nate Robinson that he's a minimum salary player rather than an unstoppable superstar. Maybe Stacey King crumpled up the memo and threw it away, maybe Nate's got a spam filter on his inbox.
Nate Robinson's given you everything in what has become the crowning season of his career. Robinson has proven that he can score, break guys down off the dribble, but he's also shown that he can be a decision maker and is as clutch as they come. We've seen Nate Robinson deliver when "star" players have failed, including LeBron James in game one.
Joakim Noah's giving you everything he has all game long and with his plantar fascitiis no longer a big factor, he's moving, rebounding, scoring, and passing like we know he can. He's perhaps the least prototypical player in the NBA which makes him a challenge to deal with.
The Heat don't have players that want to work and hustle to keep up with Noah. Bosh is too soft and lazy. Haslem doesn't have the size. There is no one else. Joakim Noah will continue to play x-factor all series long.
Jimmy Butler rested once. It was awful.
The ironman has played all 48 minutes the past three games and will likely continue to do so for as long as Luol Deng is out. Butler's diving into the lane, drawing contact, forcing the issue constantly. He doesn't have the strength of LeBron, but he has good size, athleticism, and can make LeBron work as much as anyone.
He's also not afraid to drive and force the issue on the other end of the court, something Luol Deng could rarely pull off against James.
Are injuries helping Chicago?
Conventional wisdom is that the Bulls are screwed without Deng/Hinrich, but I have to ask, are the Bulls better off without these guys?
Luol Deng has been abhorrently bad in the playoffs thus far. He's shooting 5% from the three point line, doesn't generate fouls like Butler and doesn't have the athleticism to bother LeBron as much. The Bulls would feature a better defensive lineup with Butler/Deng than Butler/Belinelli, but LeBron probably plays better while Wade is shut down more.
Instead, the Bulls are keeping Belinelli on the floor more, and Marco's had a much better playoffs than Luol Deng. Deng's consistent, solid, brings effort, and has had some big games against Miami.
Nate Robinson's played much more with Hinrich out, and well, Nate Robinson has taken on the title of point-God. He might be playing the best of any point guard still alive in the playoffs right now, and he wouldn't have been featured so much if Kirk were healthy.
The Bulls need Deng/Kirk back, but Thibodeau needs to re-examine his rotations to make sure he's not cutting too much playing time from the guys who got him here or swinging the matchups to a less favorable position if he brings them back.
Will the Bulls get offense from Boozer/Belinelli?
Both these guys are largely one way offensive players who no longer have quality matchups. Both struggled in game one while Butler, Noah, and Robinson won the game for Chicago.
The Bulls big three will likely regress to the mean in game two, but Chicago can get plenty more out of this pair than they did last game.
Carlos Boozer in particular has a tough challenge ahead of him. He's frequently struggled mightily against the Heat, but the Bulls are going to need him to give them some performances similar to what he did against Brooklyn to win this series. They need him to chew up minutes and if his defense is still lousy then he can still break even by hurting Miami on offense.
Chicago needs 50% from the floor Boozer not 30% from the floor Boozer for the rest of this series. He doesn't have to be the star, the go to clutch player, or the closer, but he needs to play to his strengths while he's in the game.
Marco plays as streaky as the next mid-level perimeter player. There are games he he'll give Chicago 20 with volume three point shooting and drives to the basket. There are games where he'll draw fouls and look like an offensive go to guy. Then there are games where he can't throw the ball in the ocean.
He was coming off one of the second type, but that didn't stop him from drilling a crucial three in the clutch to help pull Chicago to victory on Monday. The Bulls will need Marco to step up and give them more.
Beat up the third perimeter defender
Wade is great. LeBron is great. Whomever the third guy is? Not great.
The Bulls will play much of the game with Robinson, Butler, and Belinelli on the perimeter and whomever is guard by that third guy needs to step up and have a monster game. Nate Robinson did it in game one, but logic insists that even Erick Spoelstra isn't so stupid that he'll fail to make an adjustment after losing
(note he was stupid enough not to make one during the game, but we'll assume Pat Riley beat some sense into him before game two)
That means it's likely on Butler or Belinelli to really make some offense go for Chicago in key moments down the stretch.
Anatomy of a win
The Bulls players are generally less consistent and less talented than their Heat counterparts, but if Chicago gets everyone clicking on the same page, they can be extremely dangerous. Chicago doesn't need everyone to play great every day, what they need is for their players to play great on the same days, so that they can win those games.
It won't be easy, it's certainly not likely, but for at least one more afternoon, Chicago can believe.
And if they win....