The Chicago Bulls have been scrapping and clawing just to stay afloat this season amidst a myriad of injuries. Unfortunately, it's going to come to an end in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Wednesday evening.
Since stealing the series opener in South Beach, the Bulls have lost each of the last three games by double-digits. It simply hasn't been close, and circumstances are largely the culprit.
Decimation has defined Chicago's 2012-13 campaign, mostly because of superstar point guard Derrick Rose's absence for the entire duration.
Though he's been cleared to play since March 9, Rose has still yet to take the hardwood despite occasional participation in pregame warmups with his teammates.
That is not the only problem confronting the Bulls entering this contest. Top scorer Luol Deng and valuable guard Kirk Hinrich will continue to ride the pine, as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports:
Heat superstar Dwyane Wade has been dealing with bone bruising in his right knee and has averaged just 11.3 points per game in this series. Even reigning MVP LeBron James has had a lackluster four games thus far, shooting 11 percent worse than he did during the regular season.
In spite of the brilliant efforts of head coach Tom Thibodeau to contain Miami, the Bulls simply don't have enough firepower offensively to hang with their superior opponents.
It was the Heat defense that absolutely smothered Chicago in the United Center in Game 4. The Bulls shot just 26 percent from the floor—including a 0-of-12 showing from explosive PG Nate Robinson. Miami ultimately won by a score of 88-65.
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted just how bad the damage was for the home team:
Coming out that flat in front of a friendly crowd is certainly not a good sign for the Bulls. They are so thin that Jimmy Butler is averaging over 40 minutes per contest this postseason after logging just 26 MPG beforehand.
Bulls big man Joakim Noah is also fighting through a painful foot injury just to make things respectable, but his valiant efforts are beginning to wane in terms of on-court production.
If Rose were somehow able to return, this would be a different story. Unfortunately, the Bulls don't have the luxury of having their best player healthy enough to take the court.
Now that Chicago is an absolute, win-or-go-home scenario, expect tonight's clash to be extremely physical, grueling and low-scoring yet again. It just won't be enough.
With the maximum pressure the Heat are applying on defense and the sustained greatness of James even when he's not stroking it as well from the field, there is little doubt that Miami will close the deal at home in AmericanAirlines Arena in its quest for a second consecutive Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Prediction: Heat 86, Bulls 80