Miami HEAT at Chicago Bulls Game Preview

Photo Credit: Ron Turenne

The Miami HEAT face the Chicago Bulls Monday afternoon at United Center. The HEAT defeated the Bulls 100-93 in their last meeting on Nov. 26. Tip-off is set for 3:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 3:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What was the best part of Miami’s convincing victory over Milwaukee?

Couper Moorhead: Their defense. Sure, Goran Dragić caught fire with some deep threes late as the HEAT pulled away but the story of this game was Miami holding a Top 10 offense to 31.6 percent shooting. Part of that was Miami limiting their live-ball turnovers so the Bucks weren’t able to get out into transition, and another part of that was the Bucks shooting 4-of-28 from three despite generating a decent amount of good looks, but Miami did a remarkably consistent job shutting down the paint. James Johnson in particular did very well staying in front of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was a season worst minus-20, and in effect shutting down much of Milwaukee’s inside-out game. Then there was both Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo challenging every shot that did make its way inside the paint and what you’re left with was as complete a defensive game as Miami has had this season.

Joe Beguiristain: I like how Miami took control in the third quarter. Thanks to Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragić, the HEAT blew the game wide open and turned a two-point deficit at halftime into a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter. In particular, Whiteside was extremely active on both ends of the floor and made life difficult for John Henson and Eric Bledsoe, who actually fouled the big fella twice in the game. In addition to absorbing a lot of contact inside and finishing plays at the rim, Whiteside also led Miami with 11 shots contested on the afternoon. Of course, Bam Adebayo and James Johnson also answered the call on the defensive end and played a major role in the Bucks shooting just 26.3 percent in the second half.

When you factor in Josh Richardson’s strong two-way play and Dragić’s electric 11-point fourth quarter, you see just how Miami was able to blow out Milwaukee on Sunday.

2: What have we learned from the first two matchups with Chicago so far?

Couper: Miami learned what the rest of the league has learned since those games: Chicago is better than what their early-season record might have indicated. The Bulls are a team full of young, more-than-capable players that play hard. They haven’t taken that type of formula to the same levels of success that Miami has over the past calendar year, but it’s a similar idea. Like the HEAT, the Bulls are not a team you can afford to underestimate.

That depth has shown up in the previous two matchups, as Chicago had six players in double figures when they met in late November and that doesn’t even include Kris Dunn (0-of-6 shooting), one of their best players of the past month, or Nikola Mirotić, who had yet to return from injury. Chicago’s guards will get in the paint or pull-up off the dribble, they have shooters and they’re very good at attacking mismatches, whether it’s beating a post front on Lauri Markkanen or finding a weak link in the defense. It may still be a developing, rebuilding group, but they can find ways to put pressure on you if you make mistakes.

Joe: We’ve learned that the Bulls shouldn’t be taken lightly even though they have a poor record. In that first matchup with Chicago on Nov. 1, rookie Lauri Markkanen had a great game and showed his versatility throughout the night. While he didn’t shoot as well in the following meeting with the HEAT, he did tally a double-double.

That said, it isn’t all about Markkanen. Although the Bulls are ranked 28th in the league in offensive efficiency, they’re near the top in assist percentage, handoffs and fake handoffs. In other words, Chicago knows how to play as a unit and aims to move the ball in order to find the best possible shot. Again, it hasn’t translated to sustained success or an efficient offense yet, but the good habits are being built.

3: While they’re still working their way up the standings, how has Chicago turned their season around?

Couper: Getting healthy has helped as Nikola Mirotić and Zach LaVine (back just this week) both offer perimeter shooting that gives Chicago’s guards even more spacing to work with. The Bulls ran off a seven-game winning streak of their own in December and Monday will go for their second three-game streak since that first one ended.

A mini-breakout from starting guard Kris Dunn – brought over from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler trade – has been a key part of it as he’s averaging 15.5 points with 8.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game since the seven-game streak began. Now, with LaVine back, Chicago’s rotation has become a little bit more clear as they’re able to start five players all at their natural positions while bringing in a combination of steady, veteran play and energetic youth off the bench. It matters that those young players play well, as Dunn in particular has been doing, but it helps that they’re all being placed in a position to succeed, not just in the schemes being used and plays being called but simply in having role consistency from game-to-game.

Joe: After a very rough start to the season, the Bulls have gone 13-7 over their last 20 games. In addition to getting healthy like Coup mentioned above, Chicago has also upped its offensive and defensive efficiency to league average during that span.

As I alluded to in my previous response, the Bulls aren’t just about Markkanen even though he’s been on an absolute tear of late. Like Miami, Chicago has a bunch of guys who can beat you on any given night. Perhaps the one player who offers Bulls fans the most excitement is Zach LaVine. The 22-year-old showed pretty much no rust in his return to action against the Pistons on Saturday night, as he knocked down a handful of pull-up jumpers and scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 19 minutes of action. Nikola Mirotić, meanwhile, continued to light it up from beyond the arc and led Chicago with 16 points off the bench.

Long story short, the Bulls will look a whole lot different than they did in November. Luckily enough, the HEAT are also on a little bit of a roll themselves. We’ll see how it all pans out on MLK Day.

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Highlights: 

Nov. 26 – HEAT at Bulls

Nov. 1 – Bulls at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won seven straight and are 25-17.
  • The Bulls have won two in a row and enter the contest at 16-27.
  • Hassan Whiteside leads Miami in rebounds (11.7) and blocks (1.8) per game.
  • Nikola Mirotić leads Chicago in scoring at 17.3 points per contest.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.6 (22)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.2 (8)
  • Bulls Offense: 101.2 (28)
  • Bulls Defense: 107.8 (25)