The Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls have been two of the Eastern Conference’s giants over the past few seasons, and their games often bring about hard-fought battles.
While the Bulls can’t be considered a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs until Derrick Rose returns from injury, the team’s incredibly tough defense always makes life difficult for its opponent.
Here is everything you need to know about the matchup.
Where: United Center, Chicago, Ill.
When: Thursday, February 21, 8 p.m. ET
Streaming: TNT Overtime
Listen: 790 AM/104.3 FM/710 AM (Miami), ESPN 1000/WRTO 1200 (Chicago)
Betting Line: Heat -2.5 (according to Sports Book)
Heat Injuries (via ESPN)
SG Mike Miller, Day-to-Day, Illness
Bulls Injuries (via ESPN)
PG Derrick Rose, Out, Knee
For Miami, this game will be about continuing to build space between all the other teams in the Eastern Conference. It will lean heavily on James to accomplish this, and the superstar forward will be looking to put even more space between himself and the other players vying for the NBA MVP award.
At this point, betting on the Heat to have the East’s best record at the end of the regular season and James to win his fourth MVP is a fairly safe decision. If all goes according to plan for Miami, this will not change.
The Bulls will be continuing to tread water until Rose’s return. The team would be the fifth seed if the playoffs started today, and this is an extremely favorable position to be in with its best player sidelined for the entire season, thus far.
But the overarching storyline that will overshadow both teams is the trade deadline, which will have hit a few hours before tipoff. While neither team has been heavily involved in trade chatter, both could be looking at a much different Eastern Conference if there are any major moves.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Luol Deng
No one in the NBA can stop LeBron James, but Tom Thibodeau has the luxury of having one of the few guys with the defensive prowess to at least bother the best player in basketball.
Deng’s length and discipline have made him an All-Star-caliber defender, and he will be the primary option to limit James’ influence on the game.
The reigning MVP is coming off a 24-point, 11-assist night against the Atlanta Hawks, and he failed to score 30 points for the first time in eight games.
His numbers have been downright frightening recently, and it may be a long 48 minutes for the Bulls’ defensive ace.
X-Factor: Dwyane Wade
James is going to receive a massive amount of attention. He’s already the best player of his generation, and he’s currently on one of the most impressive streaks of his career.
The primary goal of the Bulls defense will be to get the ball out of James’ hands. But that will be a team effort, and it will give Wade plenty of room to operate.
If the star shooting guard gets comfortable early, the Bulls will have a massive amount of problems. This will force Chicago to perform a balancing act between giving Wade and James extra attention while not overcommitting.
This is a dangerous game, and if Wade forces the Bulls to play it, Miami will be in excellent position to earn another win.
Projected Starting Lineups
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
PG: Kirk Hinrich
SG: Richard Hamilton
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
James will continue rolling, although his shooting percentage will not be quite as ridiculous as it has been for most of February. Expect another double-double from him and a performance from Wade that will be good enough to push Miami to a 91-83 victory.