The Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder have done everything possible to counteract the effects of major injuries to their star players, but that resiliency may not be enough to avoid elimination on Wednesday.
The Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies have each pulled ahead to take 3-1 series leads in the second round of the NBA playoffs—the latter having done so against hefty odds. But with Russell Westbrook out for the season, the Thunder have been unable to best Memphis’ top-ranked defense, even with one of the league’s preeminent scorers shouldering the load.
While few expected the Thunder to struggle this postseason (prior to Westbrook’s injury), it was almost inevitable for the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. They battled valiantly throughout the regular season and opening round of the playoffs, but injuries are mounting and Chicago has very little chance of upending Miami again this round, especially with Game 5 taking place in Miami.
Let’s take a closer look at both matchups and break down what to watch for in Wednesday’s elimination game.
Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Florida
When: 7 p.m. ET
Chicago Injuries: Kirk Hinrich (Questionable), Luol Deng (Doubtful), Derrick Rose (Out)
Miami Injuries: None
Series: Heat lead 3-1
Rose is unlikely to make his return to the court with his team down 3-1 to a tremendous Heat squad. With the superstar point guard on the sidelines and Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng potentially out as well, Chicago simply doesn’t have the firepower to contend with LeBron James and the Heat.
Replacing the production of the trio has been hard enough, but the absence of Rose, Hinrich and Deng has also put a lot of pressure on the Bulls reserves. The strain was all too apparent in their Monday night matchup, in which the Bulls managed just 65 points.
The writing is on the wall for Chicago. As well as Tom Thibodeau’s team played without some of its most talented contributors, the end of the road is fast approaching.
With a win in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, Miami now must focus on closing out as quickly as possible. With the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks likely to engage in a six or seven-game series, the Heat can look forward to some extra rest should they dispatch Chicago in short order.
Things haven’t been all that difficult for Miami this postseason. After dismantling the Milwaukee Bucks in four games in the opening round, the Heat have appeared well-rested and as sharp as ever—aided by some tremendous performances from James.
The Heat’s leading scorer has tallied 24.1 points per game in the playoffs, including a 27-point effort in his team’s 88-65 win Monday night. He’s been nowhere near as efficient in this series as he was against the Bucks (45.5 percent from the floor), but he hasn’t exactly been forced to shoulder the entire burden at the offensive end.
To take nothing away from the Bulls, Miami is just a healthier and more well-rested team, and there doesn’t seem to be anything to potentially slow its momentum in this series. Look for the Heat to close out the Bulls at home Wednesday night in an uneven affair.
Prediction: Miami 98, Chicago 82
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
When: 9:30 p.m. ET
Memphis Injuries: None
Oklahoma City Injuries: Russell Westbrook (Out)
Series: Grizzlies lead 3-1
Westbrook’s injury has completely derailed Oklahoma City’s balanced offensive attack. Durant can do a lot of special things with the ball in his hands, but even he can’t be expected to keep the Thunder afloat on his own.
The superstar forward is averaging 31.8 points per game in the playoffs this year in an astounding 43.7 minutes per contest. In the regular season, Durant averaged just 38.5 minutes per game and attempted 2.5 less three-pointers per contest.
Westbrook’s absence has not only put the scoring burden squarely on Durant, but also limited his looks at the offensive end. Oklahoma City simply doesn’t have another scoring threat capable of taking the heat off Durant.
That’s a big problem against the best defensive team in the league.
Memphis allowed just 89.3 points per game during the regular season, and although that number has jumped to 93.2 points in the postseason, it has also come against two explosive offenses.
The Grizzlies play extremely physical defense in the paint and have rebounded well enough to limit opponents’ second chances at the offensive end—two areas in which Oklahoma City must excel to avoid elimination on Wednesday.
With Game 4 taking place in Oklahoma City, a Thunder win to keep the series alive should be expected, but don’t be surprised if Memphis closes out the series at home Friday evening.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 94, Memphis 89