That makes five in a row.
The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls played another game that will be dissected and psychoanalyzed by every basketball shrink in the country. Both teams had epic runs and seemed unstoppable for stretches and both teams had embarrassing stretches and clanked crucial free throws.
But a few things remain the same:
Derrick Rose needs help.
LeBron James still considers dribbling the ball for 19 seconds and hoisting up an off-balance fade-away shot as "team offense."
The Bulls continue their voodoo curse on Dwyane Wade that extends back to the Scott Skiles era.
Chris Bosh will score 20 points, dominate Carlos Boozer and his teammates will forget about him in the fourth quarter.
If neither side makes any changes in strategy and play, then the Heat will probably continue in its tight-game, defensive grinding wins against the Bulls. But coaches Tom Thibodeou and Erik Spoelstra are too smart to allow the same patterns to repeat themselves for a sixth game. Or are they?
If you're the Heat, you have to wonder if there isn't a more effective way to use Wade against the Bulls' long-armed guards. He consistently turns the ball over when he tries to dribble against them. And yet they still go into Wade iso-sets that prove inefficient most of the time.
Miami continues to look like an unstoppable beast that trips over its shoelaces. They're fast, they're athletic and they can't string together a full team game. Forget the miss free throws with the game on the line.
LeBron is the best player on the floor but he forgets about the weapons on his team. I'm sure Pat Riley didn't sign Mike Miller for his shoulder tattoos. He is on the team to shoot three-pointers along with James Jones. They have a young, tall, athletic forward in Terrell Harris who sits the bench, and a savvy veteran in Shane Battier. All of these players were non-factors. When the game is on the line, the entire team shrinks down to two and a half players.
And still that's better than the Bulls' options. Yes, Rose is circus contortionist when it comes to getting his shots off. But putting the weight of the offense on him makes the Bulls into bystanders. Even Michael Jordan depended on Steve Kerr and Bill Paxson in clutch situations. And the only way to do it is to start in the regular season. High-pressure games like this are the perfect opportunity for others to get over their fear of failure (looking at you, Boozer).
The Bulls have some sort of little brother head trip when it comes to their South Beach rivals. And with every identical loss, this neurosis cements itself. They fumble, they clank and then they hop on to Rose's shoulders the last two minutes. Psychologically, this is turning Rose into a self-flagellating, anal-retentive perfectionist. And the tighter he holds the reins the more things fray around him.
If the Bulls insist on losing, at least try something different. That's the only way to learn and to untrain bad mental errors.
Try hoisting up a lot of three-pointers like the Knicks did against the Heat to stretch the floor and open up lanes. Try trapping the ball whenever LeBron goes into his 'dribble and wait' modes at the top of the key. Try using waves of Bulls defenders to foul the Big 3 and force them to the line, where they have been less than spectacular this year. It would get them out of rhythm and frustrate them. And when LeBron, Wade and Bosh get frustrated turnovers often follow. But try something else Thibs!
For the Miami Heat, they don't have to do anything as long as they continue to win. But it would be beneficial to their long-term health if they find a way to use their bench. This is a short season that's wearing a lot of teams down. Demand offensive movement and kick-outs to Miller. Use the youthful legs of Harris and Cole for short bursts of energy.
The next time the Bulls and Heat meet will mean a lot more to Chicago than Miami. If the Bulls come out with the same game plan and lose in the same manner for the sixth straight time, then they might have psyched themselves out before the playoffs even begin. And that would be a shame, because both teams are too talented and too smart to continue living down to their potential.