The Miami Heat are in season-best form entering the United Center on Thursday night to take on the Chicago Bulls. In a matchup that figures to be a defensive battle between two of the Eastern Conference's best squads, this is sure to be a joy to watch for throwback basketball enthusiasts.
If not for the outstanding defense played by the Bulls under head coach Tom Thibodeau, there would not even be talk of a postseason. Chicago lacks offensive firepower without star point guard Derrick Rose, but play sound enough on the other end to stay in most games.
Home-court advantage should only help the Bulls' cause against the East's current top team, though. Here is a breakdown of the top developments to watch for as this barn burner unfolds.
Each team's pick-and-roll defense
Both of these squads are among the best at defending this NBA offensive staple, but do it in a different styles. Grantland's Zach Lowe broke down the strict assignment-based tactics of the Bulls and how they rarely make mistakes.
Lowe points out how good the Bulls are at stunting, which is when the wing defender fakes help to the middle of the floor in order to disrupt the point guard's read when his big man is done setting the pick.
Heat center Chris Bosh has the range to create a tougher matchup, as he can drag Joakim Noah out on the perimeter. Udonis Haslem has also proven that he can knock down 15-footers. With players who can crash the lane like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Bulls are bound to have their hands full.
Miami, meanwhile, deploys a more aggressive attacking style of pick-and-roll defense, as B/R's own Maxwell Ogden so eloquently put it.
The Heat may have a "small" set of personnel without elite defensive stoppers on the inside, but they still allow some of the fewest points in the paint in the NBA.
The insanely athletic perimeter players that the Heat have allow them to pressure the ball-handler, swarming the opposing player and forcing him to make a quick decision. That, of course, leads to turnovers and the electrifying transition game Miami displays in its nightly open-court showcases.
How Chicago's role players perform in light of Reggie Rose's remarks
As reported by ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers, Derrick Rose's brother and manager was infuriated by the GM John Paxson's lack of movement at the trade deadline on Thursday:
What have you pieced together? Have you made any moves? Have you made any trades to get better? You know all roads to the championship lead through Miami...
Joakim Noah is a great player. Luol Deng is a great player. But you need more than that. You have to put together pieces to your main piece. The players can only do so much. It's up to the organization to make them better.
Reggie Rose went on to say that it was frustrating to see his brother play his heart out for the Bulls without them giving him more help.
Gritty guard Kirk Hinrich is already a game-time decision for the Bulls (h/t ESPN), which will put the pressure on Nate Robinson—who's playing some of the best basketball of his life—Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson to step up and deliver.
Perhaps those in the Bulls' locker room deflect criticism, but a poor performance from the Bulls' supporting cast would give more substance to what Reggie Rose said.
In a way, the comments are already somewhat justified. Without Derrick Rose, Chicago ranks just 28th in the league with 93.2 points per game.
Can Miami get up for back-to-back wins after stirring comeback on Wednesday?
It took a lot of energy for the Heat to extend their winning streak. After trailing 73-63 entering the fourth quarter in Atlanta, Erik Spoelstra's bunch roared back with a 40-point fourth quarter to pull out a 103-90 victory on the road.
Talk about an emphatic way to return from the All-Star break. Miami's typical stars weren't the key, though—it was Ray Allen and Shane Battier who combined for 24 points in the decisive final 12 minutes.
That snapped Allen out of a February shooting funk, but it is worth noting that he had been struggling significantly before then. He is also making just 38.8 percent of his shots when the Heat have to play back-to-back games.
Hustle will also be a factor this evening, and in the first matchup—which the Bulls won 96-89—Miami was out-rebounded 48-to-28, and didn't get very much production from players not named Wade or James.
It is unlikely that Allen and Battier will replicate the success they had on Wednesday. That means that Bosh, Haslem and possibly newly acquired big man Chris Andersen will have to have a big game on the glass to give the Heat a better chance to pull this one out on the road.