The Miami Heat have only won five of their last 10 games. For most teams, a skid like this would go somewhat unnoticed. But for the Heat, everything is multiplied. The Chicago Bulls haven’t exactly been the elite team we’ve seen all season lately either, only winning four of their last eight games.
The Heat haven’t really been that dominant since they had their impressive nine-game win streak, all of which were by double digits, snapped in early March. Since then they’ve gone just 12-9. That’s not bad, but we expect much more from a team many assumed would run away with the East. What is most concerning for the Heat is that they don’t have an excuse for their recent struggle. Yes, Dwyane Wade has missed games here and there, but for the most part, Miami has been playing with the team that they will have come playoff time.
The Bulls, on the other hand, have yet to lock up the top seed despite Miami’s mediocre play. Unlike the Heat though, the Bulls do have an excuse. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose has missed 13 of the last 14 games due to injury. Although Chicago has survived without him, they may have had a stronger grip on the number one seed if he had been healthy. Still, the Bulls are two games up on the Heat in the loss column with only a handful of games to go.
Clearly, both teams need need to get back to their winning ways heading into the postseason. Tonight’s match-up between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses begs the question: Who needs this game more?
A win for Chicago would all but cement its place as the top seed in the East and secure home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. A loss, though, would leave the door open for the Heat. If Miami wins, the Heat are only one game behind Chicago in the loss column – with another meeting against the Bulls, this time at home, just a week away.
The Bulls can’t afford to lose the top seed in the East. Home-court advantage is the only chance they have to beat the Heat in a seven-game series. I don’t care that the Heat aren’t playing their best basketball right now. They still have 10 regular season games and a tune-up series against the Knicks, Sixers, or Bucks before they need to worry about hitting their stride. I don’t care that despite Derrick Rose missing the almost a third of his team’s games, the Bulls still have a better record than the Heat. You don’t win anything for having a stellar regular season. Just ask last year’s Spurs team. Miami has the best team in the league, and that hasn’t changed.
Look, there isn’t much difference between these two defenses. They are both elite. But the Heat also have an elite offense that the Bulls can’t match. Remember last year how lost the Bulls’ offense looked when the Heat’s perimeter defenders were able to contain Rose? Well, their offense hasn’t gotten any better, and Rose and Deng will be playing with injuries. Chicago’s best chance is to earn the top seed. The Heat struggle on the road (just 16-12) and the Bulls dominate at home (23-6). Home-court advantage is something this team desperately needs to have a good chance to make it to the Finals.
And a win tonight would bring them one giant step closer.