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Around the League

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Czar’s Playoff Preview

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets - Game FiveThe Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls take the court tonight in Game 6 of their first round series with a swarm of questions buzzing about.

Will Bulls PG Kirk Hinrich miss his second straight game with a bruised left calf? Will Luol Deng and Taj Gibson be healthy after skipping yesterday’s practice due to illness?

Whose plantar faciitis will affect his production more, Joakim Noah’s or Joe Johnson’s? Will PG Deron Williams perform at an All-Star level or revert to his form in Games 2 and 3 wherein he shot a combined 6 for 23?

Will we see the return of Derrick Rose either tonight or in a possible Game 7 back in Brooklyn?

Only eight NBA teams have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. After winning by 17 in Game 1, Brooklyn then lost a lackluster Game 2 at home, shooting 35% from the field and 19% from the arc. Games 3 and 4 in Chi-Town were extremely close, with the Nets coming out on the losing side in both hard-fought battles.

Game 4 was a true heartbreaker for Brooklyn. They held a 14-point lead with just a few minutes left in regulation and wound up losing 142-134 in triple overtime.

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets - Game FiveBulls backup PG Nate Robinson was the hero for Chicago, scoring 34 points (the most ever for a Bulls reserve in a playoff game) and almost singlehandedly winning the game. 29 of his 34 points were scored in the fourth quarter and subsequent overtimes.

Brooklyn can be buoyed by their performance at home in Game 5 on Monday. They shot 50% from the field and outrebounded Chicago 44-33. C Brook Lopez finished with 28 points and 10 boards, and D-Will added 23 and 10 dimes in the 110-91 victory.

The Bulls didn’t play badly on Monday either. All five starters scored in double figures; their bench contributed 20 points; and they shot 49% as a team. Chicago simply wilted down the stretch, getting outscored by Brooklyn 33-18 in the fourth quarter.

With Hinrich almost certain to miss tonight’s action, Coach Thibodeau may mix up his lineups with Marco Belinelli at the 1-guard, athletic SF Jimmy Butler checking Deron Williams, and the electric Nate Robinson returning to his role as super-sub.

Tune in to YES or TNT at 8PM ET to see if the Nets can get their first W of the year in Chicago and take this series back to Brooklyn for Game 7.

Gameday Dish: Heat vs. Bulls

The Miami Heat come to Chicago tonight riding the NBA’s longest current win streak of 8 games. At 37-14 they have the best record in the Eastern Conference by 5 games and the second best overall record in the league.

LeBron James, now in his tenth pro season, has been performing at a level not seen since Michael Jordan. His season averages of 27.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7 apg and 1.7 spg accompanied by a staggering 57% FG rate make him far and away the leader to win the MVP award for the fourth time.

In Miami’s first game after the All-Star break, 28-year-old James had 24 points, 11 dimes, 6 boards and 4 steals in a come-from-behind victory in Atlanta last night.

The Heat outscored the Hawks 40-17 in the 4th quarter in the 103-90 victory. Veterans Shane Battier and Ray Allen combined for 32 points off the bench as Chris Bosh struggled, scoring only 6 points on 2-10 shooting.

The tenacious Bulls team last played on Tuesday night in The Big Easy where they bested the soon-to-be Pelicans 96-87 to improve their record to 31-22, currently good for the 5th spot in the East.

Chicago Bulls v Los Angeles LakersFirst-time All-Star Joakim Noah put up 15 points, 17 boards, 5 dimes and 3 blocks in the 48. Prior to the break coach Tom Thibodeau’s squad dropped 5 of 7 games with 6 of those contests on the road.

Chicago and Miami matched up for the first time on January 4th in South Beach. The Bulls, behind Carlos Boozer’s 27 points and 12 rebounds, topped the Heat 96-89 in a rare Miami home L. In fact, Miami has lost 6 of their last 8 regular season games against the Bulls including 9 of their last 11 in Chi-Town.

However, they did win 2 games at the United Center in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat, for all their greatness, have a fairly pedestrian road record of 14-11, while Chicago’s home mark of 16-10 isn’t all that intimidating.

Chicago has pulled together this season without their leader Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP. After tearing his ACL in Game 1 of the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the Chicago-native has missed all 53 of the Bulls games thus far. Recently the 2008 1st overall pick stated that he may not return to game action until next season. However he has been reported to be participating in live 5-5 drills in practice.

Tune in to TNT tonight at 8:00 PM ET to see if Miami can continue their hot streak against a tough Bulls team that gives up only 91.5 ppg and hits the boards hard.