Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Heat (01.19.18)

Tonight the Bulls take on the Miami Heat at the United Center in the second of three matchups set for this season. For Chicago, it'll be their third game in five nights, but for Miami it's the second half of a back-to-back set as the Heat battled the Detroit Pistons in Motown last night.

Earlier this season the Heat posted a 103-96 victory over the Bulls here at the United Center, as Josh Richardson exploded for 27 points and Bam Adebayo stormed off the bench to record a double-double (14 points/13 rebounds). For Chicago, recently traded Justin Holiday led the way with 27 points of his own, and a career-high 13 rebounds and three steals. Zach LaVine also had a good night with 24 points and nine assists.

Much like the Bulls the Heat have been harassed with a series of injuries to a number of key players this season. Former Chicago first round draft pick James Johnson missed the start of the season after undergoing offseason hernia surgery, while Dion Waiters finally made it back to the court a couple of weeks ago after ankle surgery last year. Heat All-Star Goran Dragic began the 2018-19 campaign in-and-out of the lineup with a creaky right knee before ultimately undergoing surgery a little before Christmas. If all goes well, Miami is hoping Dragic can return to active duty sometime around the All-Star break next month.

However, one famous Heat player every Bulls fan knows well is making his final United Center appearance this evening — Dwyane Wade. The one-time Bulls guard and long-time Miami icon is averaging 13.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists in a bench role for the Heat this season.

Besides Wade and James Johnson, there are a couple of other Floridians definitely worth keeping tabs on tonight. Fourth-year player Josh Richardson leads the Heat in scoring at 17.7 points per game. The 6'6” guard brings grit and guts to the hardwood as well as explosive hops. He's a legitimate, impact player at both ends of the floor who landed in Miami as a second round pick in 2015. Richardson always is willing to mix it up under the hoop and speedy enough to blow by defenders on his way to the hoop. Collectively, Chicago will need to force Richardson to stay out of the paint as much as possible and also keep a hand in his face all night long.

Miami also employs a couple of big-time rim defenders in centers Hassan Whiteside and backup Bam Adebayo. Whiteside logs most of the time in the pivot and is a double-double machine, averaging 12.8 points and 12.4 rebounds, to go along with 2.42 blocks. Whiteside also feeds off emotion. If he tastes success early, watch out. But if he doesn't, Whiteside can quickly end up frustrated and become invisible.

The Bulls come into tonight having lost nine straight games and frantic to get back on track. In order to turn the tables they're going to need to come out of the gates hard and fast and never back down. To generate open looks at the basket and force Miami's defense onto its collective heels, the Bulls will have to spread out to open up the floor and keep everyone involved in the action. The ball has to crisply jump from player-to-player and from one side off the court to force Miami to burn extra energy in having to defend both the paint and the perimeter.

Chicago's chief ballhandlers, specifically guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, as well as small forward Chandler Hutchison, must stay aggressive and consistently attempt to attack the rim and draw contact to make their way to the charity stripe for easy scoring opportunities.

All-in-all, the Bulls need to commit to outworking Miami at both ends of the floor. They have to battle for every rebound and loose ball and send a message to Miami that nothing will come easy tonight.