Miami is still reeling from a pair of home-and-home losses to the Boston Celtics. The Heat need a win in Chicago to keep alive their chances of earning the top-seed in the East, and also to demolish suspicions that they lack heart and are only wannabe champions.
Fresh from their gutsy, Rose-less, bounce-back win versus the Knicks, Chicago simply wants to douse any title hopes the Heat might have.
HOW MIAMI CAN WIN
- LeBron James must have his way when variously working against Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer or Kyle Korver. This means that LBJ has to knock down his jumpers, minimize his domination of the ball and make quick decisions to keep Chicago’s alert defense on the move. Contrary to many of his past playoff performances, LeBron must also deliver the goods if/when the game is up for grabs. At the other end of the court, the self-proclaimed King has the size, strength and foot speed to play bothersome bump-and-grind defense against Deng, but can also be beaten off the dribble because his balance is sometimes compromised when he leans forward looking for a steal.
- Dwyane Wade can easily out-quick and overpower the veteran defense of Rip Hamilton, and also has the legs to tailgate Hamilton’s (and Kyle Korver‘s) perpetual motions. D-Wade must, however, remain mindful of Brewer’s timely off-the-ball cuts. If Wade can bag his jumpers, then driving lanes and pull-up opportunities will become available. Even so, because of Chicago’s gang-up defense in the paint, Wade must also look to make accurate kick-out passes when surrounded in the shadow of the hoop.
- Although he has adhesive hands, Carlos Boozer is slow off the floor, can no longer take his dribble to the rim, is utterly defenseless and has a history of choking in the clutch. Oh, and his son is a diehard Miami fan. Chris Bosh has the capability of scoring against him from near, far and all points in between, but needs the space and the ball-time to do so. Above all, Bosh’s jumper must be on-target.
- Mario Chalmers has developed into a useful auxiliary scorer. On defense, he also has the speed and quickness to push C.J. Watson and/or John Lucas III into spots where they’re forced to give up the ball. However, Chalmers needs his bigs to make decisive shows on high screen/rolls and must avoid simply going under the screens — especially given Lucas’ increasingly accurate 3-point stroke.
- In the unlikely event that Rose makes a miraculous recovery from his latest injury (a sprained ankle), he will, of course, be the primary focus of Miami’s defense. Look for the Heat to sic Wade on Rose in endgame situations, but they’ll use swarming defensive rotations much of the rest of the time. The quickness of their swarming defense might force Rose to over-penetrate and force shots or bad passes — which happen to be continuing flaws in his game. Miami will also challenge Rose to consistently bury shots from the perimeter. Moreover, both Chalmers and Wade will attack Rose’s incredibly athletic but merely average defense. If Rose does in fact play, he’s bound to be rusty and turnover prone anyway.
- Ronny Turiaf has apparently supplanted Joel Anthony in the staring lineup, but whoever mans the center spot can afford to mostly ignore the virtually invisible offense of Joakim Noah and supply shut-down defense in the lane. Indeed, while Turiaf plays with turbo-energy, he’s foul-prone and has a great deal of trouble finishing in even moderate traffic. Anthony, meanwhile, has considerably more defensive range than any center in the league and must be given considerable daylight.
- Off the bench, Udonis Haslem can stifle Boozer while easily shaking free to bury his dependable mid-range jumpers. When inserted into the center slot, Haslem has to box Noah and Omer Asik off the offensive glass.
- Shane Battier is running out of gas, but must still hit an occasional 3-ball and play chest-to-chest defense against Deng.
- Mike Miller can theoretically match Korver trey-for-trey, and is a superior rebounder and handler.
- Norris Cole and the resurrected James Jones have to full advantage of their playing time by avoiding both turnovers and defensive mistakes, while knocking down their shot opportunities — especially from long range.
- Miami needs to revive what used to be an incredibly quick and coordinated defense that could stifle high screen/rolls, clog the middle, close-out long-distance dialers, and swipe away careless dribbles and lazy passes. Their warp-speed defense must fuel their unstoppable running game that highlights the sensational finished of LBJ and Wade.
- However, as of late there’s been inadequate in-the-lane rotations to compliment Miami’s wing-traps, leaving dive cutters unattended to. In addition, the Heat have taken to automatically switch screen/rolls, leaving opponents to take undue advantage of any resulting mismatches.
- On offense, Miami has enough weapons and versatility to shoot gaping holes in Chicago’s usually stingy defense. But LeBron and Wade must hit their jumpers, and everybody has to take better care of the ball than they usually do.
- In the endgame, the Heat’s offense has retrogressed to the point where everybody spectates and watches LBJ do his thing. Better ball- and player-movement is a must at all times. Indeed, most of the team’s skip passes are executed by LeBron and emphasize the rarity of ball reversals.
- Despite the team’s testimony to the contrary, the Heat have been playing with a notable lack of verve. They absolutely must rekindle their sense of emergency — to win this game as well as to prepare for the playoffs.
HOW THE BULLS CAN WIN
- If Rose is back to near-normal, he’s a monster. Think MJ. Think Kobe. He is uniquely qualified to pierce Miami’s hot-footed defense with his quick first-step, his even-quicker second step, and his still-quicker third step. Still, he must stretch the defense by repeatedly knocking down jump shots. And he needs to score a ton of points. If, that is, he does play and is pain-free.
- Behind Rose, Watson plays aggressive D, always looks to push the ball, and is a superb stand-still shooter from beyond the arc. The Bulls can’t win a track meet with the Heat, so Watson has to stay in control. Without their go-to scorer, Chicago is forced to play a more democratic offense with more cuts and curls, weak-and-strong-side screens, and precision passwork. Since Rose has already missed so many games, the Bulls are already in the right groove and must simply maintain their focus.
- If Hamilton has lost at least a step (or two), he remains a master at using screens. His constant maneuvering will put pressure on Miami’s bigs to make flawless decisions in defense of multiple screens, and also make precise baseline rotations. Since Hamilton requires his teammates to make considerable sacrifices when his number is called, he must absolutely shoot the lights out.
- Brewer will get plenty of daylight opposite LBJ, and has the best chance to to rattle him in the clutch, when The Chosen One has a painful history of making bad choices with the ball.
- Deng has developed into a versatile offensive weapon, even beyond the 3-point line, and he can make LBJ work harder than he wants to on defense. While he’s not a wondrous creator off the bounce, Deng has to tally points by the dozen, especially in the absence of Rose. Plus, the long-limbed Deng must also disrupt LeBron’s shot attempts around the rim.
- While neither team has a go-to scorer at center, Noah can sometimes drop a jumper or unleash a more than adequate lefty baby-hook. He’s also the leading boardman for the NBA’s most dominant rebounding team. Moreover, Noah has to set sturdy screens and be a major factor in closing down he middle on defense.
- Behind Noah, Asik brings adhesive hands, considerable bulk, and a fearless attitude. If he had a few moves, he could easily overpower Turiaf, Anthony or Haslem.
- These days, Boozer is strictly a jump shooter — and he must shoot a high-percentage of his patented over-the-head jays. On defense, he will require constant help to keep Bosh from running wild. Don’t be surprised if Deng takes several turns versus Bosh — the more often the better for the Bulls.
- Korver has to make at least half of his long-range bombs to compensate for his leaden sneakers.
- The mostly underrated Taj Gibson can do it all — rebound, bury mid-range jumpers, run the court, and play quick-footed, belligerent defense. He must absolutely be at the top of his game.
- Since Miami’s half-court offense is often stagnant, the Heat depend on turnover-driven fastbreaks and early-offense opportunities. Which is why Chicago must eliminate taking risky chances with the ball. This means making safe and sure interior passes, finishing with power, and taking care not to force their dribblings through crowds.
- Chicago yields the fewest points per game in the league by playing smart, energetic defense—and also by slowing the tempo. With or without Rose, they’ve got will power, board-power, discipline, and patience. These are their most significant advantages.
- They must dominate both boards to create extra possessions.
- The Bulls must focus on abusing all of Miami’s defensive flaws: Since so many of the Heat’s defenders are often ball-centric, they are vulnerable to backdoor cuts (Hamilton’s favorite ploy!). Also, Miami’s transition defense is frequently lackadaisical, depending on someone like LBJ to make sensational chase-down blocks. And Bosh has a tendency to wander and turn his head when he’s playing off-ball defense.
FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR
- How many extra shots will Chicago’s offensive rebounders provide, and how many “extra” points will result?
- Will the Bulls be able to convert their late free throws, mindful that their embarrassing failure to do so cost them last Sunday’s game in New York?
- The Bulls pride themselves on the effectiveness of their second unit. Can the Heat’s erratic bench-corps match their counterpart’s point production?
- Bosh’s performance is critical. Can he rise to the occasion and give the Heat the dependable third-scoring option that would punch holes in Chicago’s stingy defense?
- In order to augment Deng’s scoring, can Hamilton recapture the rapture as he did on Wednesday against the Knicks?