Thursday, 24 February 2011

Preview: Bulls vs Heat

Time for the run-in, the stretch, the post-All Star push. Whatever we call it, this last 30 or so games ultimately decides how this most unpredictable of NBA Championships will be fought out.

D-Rose will continue his battle
with MVP-candidate LeBron James
First up for Chicago is a huge match against Miami at the United Center. The Bulls are surprisingly just one game in the Loss column behind the much-favored Miami Heat and another one after that behind the Conference-leading Celtics. Chicago face Miami twice in the next 14 days, two games that could go a long way to deciding which of the two teams will be the #2 seed, and possibly even decide which of the two will contend for the East's #1 spot.

The Bulls are this year's surprise package (apart from highlight-reel-Blake Griffin and Gilbert Arenas totally losing it). They are 38-16 and have played just 7 games with their preferred starting lineup, all 7 played while Noah was already injured. With a full-strength squad, this Bulls incarnation could scare the bejeezus out of the other 'Elite' teams. In the 30 games that Joakim has missed, Chicago somehow completed a miraculous 22-8 record including big wins over the Heat and a HUGE 10pt battering of the NBA-best Spurs right before the All-Star game. Worrying hiccups against the Bobcats provided some food for thought for Thibodeau. And since January, only the Spurs have a better record in the league than Chicago.

The Heat however, have put that spluttering 9-8 start behind them and haven't looked back, being 32-6 since many experts were hitting the panic button. LeBron James is probably MVP of the pre-All Star part of the year (very close between him and Derrick Rose), and the "Big 3" have started to gel of late with solid victories over some of the big teams. Miami has finally broken the early-season stigma that had them down as 'not quite there' and is proving now that they are ready to fight for the Title this year.

One of the other intriguing aspects of this tie is that the Bulls lead the NBA in points allowed (per 100 possessions) whilst the Heat are 3rd in point scored per 100 possessions. Could we see the unstoppable force meet the immovable object?

With the #2 position in the East up for grabs, this run-in will be vital for both Chicago and Miami's title aspirations. Whoever finishes 3rd would have to go through both the Heat in the 2nd round and the Celtics in the ECF without homecourt advantage. Just a slight disadvantage then.

This week's News:
The obvious big story is the ending of the Carmelo Anthony trade fiasco. It started off as a nice conversation topic and ended up being the most annoying story this side of LeBron's 'Decision.' 'Melo finally decided to run for the money that New York were offering and has signed his $65 million extension there. The Knicks in return will send Forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari and Guards Reymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov to Denver along with $3 million cash, 2012 and 2013 second-round picks (originally from Warriors) and the Knick's 2014 pick. Also moving are Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams (All Knicks-to-Nuggets). The Timberwolves are the 3rd team involved and they will send Corey Brewer to New York in return for Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry's expiring contract and another $3 million cash.

Chicago announced Tuesday afternoon that they had traded 6-9 Forward James Johnson to the Toronto Raptors, gaining Miami's 2011 Regular First Round draft pick in return for the 2nd-year player from Wake Forest. Johnson recently returned from an impressive D-League stretch, finished as the 3rd-most efficient player in the league when he left. In his rookie campaign, JJ averaged 3.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg with 11.6mpg in 11 starts in 65 appearances.

DeMar DeRozan has blasted the use of props in this year's Sprite Slam Dunk contest.  "I'm not into all the props and everything," DeRozan has said, after he performed two highly creative dunks including one ridiculous through the legs, reverse dunk on an alley-oop. DeMar did not score high enough to get through to the final pairing which saw JaVale McGee make use of 3 balls and Blake Griffin leap over a KIA car to win the contest. DeRozan said that he "would compete" in a dunk contest again, "but not no prop dunk contest."

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