Around the League

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Gameday Dish: Heat vs. Bulls

The Miami Heat come to Chicago tonight to take on the NBA-leading Bulls. At 40-16, coach Spoelstra’s Heat currently sit three games behind coach Tom Thibodeau’s guys for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls, with a record of 44-14, have only 8 games remaining in the 2011-12 shortened schedule. And the Heat have only 10 games left. Neither side has any real worry about falling to the 3rd spot in the East. So what accounts for the air of uncertainty surrounding these elite teams so late in the regular season?

The Heat’s team defense has slipped at the most important time of year, and as a result the South Florida Superteam has gone a pedestrian 5-5 over their last ten contests. In these games, Miami has allowed 47.3 percent shooting from their opponents compared to their overall season average of 43.2 percent. On Tuesday night in Miami, the Heat allowed the Boston Celtics to shoot 60.6 percent from the field in a 115-107 loss. This FG percentage was the best shooting of any opponent that Miami has allowed since the formation of the Big 3 at the beginning of last season.

The Bulls (6-4 over the last ten ballgames) have their own concerns as of late. Their team leader and 2011 NBA MVP PG Copyright 2011 NBAE - Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesDerrick Rose is hurt again and listed as questionable for tonight’s 48. Rose suffered a sprained right ankle in Sunday’s loss at New York and missed the rematch victory on Tuesday night in ChiTown. This comes after the 4th-year superstar missed 12 straight games with a strained right groin from March 14th to April 5th. Rose has missed 23 games this year, however the rest of the roster has picked up the slack and gone 16-7 in his absence.

The Heat bested the Bulls in Miami on January 29th, 97-93. LeBron had 35 points, 11 boards and 5 dimes in the hard-fought ‘W’. On March 14th in Chicago, the Bulls held off the Heat 106-102 even though LeBron had 35 and Chicago-native Dwyane Wade put up 36, and Rose didn’t play. The deep and versatile Chicago squad did have six players in double figures led by John Lucas III with 24.

This evening’s matchup will be the third of four head-to-heads for these two Eastern Conference Title favorites. Clinching the number one seed in the East and earning home-court advantage in the playoffs would be a tremendous advantage to these power teams as they are both monsters at home (Miami is 24-4 and Chicago is 23-6).

Tune in to TNT tonight at 8:00 PM ET to see who gets a leg up when the Chicago Bulls host the Miami Heat.

Gameday Dish: Orlando Magic vs. Chicago Bulls

The Orlando Magic and their superstar big man 26-year-old Dwight Howard come to Chi-Town tonight to battle the NBA-best 33-8 Bulls and the reigning league MVP 23-year-old PG Derrick Rose.

With the NBA trading deadline a mere seven days away, all of the ubiquitous, swirling and often divisive trade talk surrounding First-Team All-NBA C Howard will be at max volume for the next week. Will the 25-15 Magic trade their cornerstone as he wishes, or will they play out this shortened season and try to resign him this summer?

The speculation and uncertainty may be taking its toll on Howard’s team. On Tuesday night Orlando lost to the league-worst Bobcats 100-84 after blowing a 20-point lead. In his postgame comments coach Stan Van Gundy questioned their collective desire to compete and improve. Howard had 17 boards and 15 points in the defeat, and the Magic were outscored by Charlotte 28-13 in the fourth quarter.

Coach Tom Thibodeau’s squad leads the NBA in assists per game, rebounds per game and is second in points allowed. On top of that, the Bulls are an impressive 15-2 at the Madhouse on Madison II. In addition, the Second-City Ballers are on a season-high eight-game winning streak after besting the Bucks at the buzzer in Milwaukee last night, 106-104. The all-everything, 4th-year Rose finished with 30 points, 11 dimes and 8 boards and hit the game-winning step-back long 2-point shot with no time remaining.

The Magic have dropped their last four contests against Chicago. A win tonight could change many people’s thinking about the direction of Orlando, most critically Howard’s. It would also be a strong start to a tough stretch of games over the next six days. After tonight, the Magic play Indiana, Miami and San Antonio – all before the 3/15 trading deadline.

As for the Bulls, who sit two games ahead of the Heat in the Eastern Conference, a W would be a great way to kick-off a six-game homestand and stay above the Miami juggernaut in the standings.

Kevin Harlan and I will be teaming up for this evening’s Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls broadcast at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.

Gameday Dish: Bulls vs. Knicks

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Chicago Bulls and reigning league MVP 4th-year point guard Derrick Rose arrive on the island of Manhattan to take on the New York Knicks tonight at Madison Square Garden. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s guys are 18-6 and sit atop the Eastern Conference even after losing in the City of Brotherly Love last night to the exciting, upstart Philadelphia 76ers 98-82. On the other side, after dropping 9 of their last 11 contests, coach Mike D’Antoni’s squad crushed the Detroit Pistons in Manhattan on Tuesday night 113-86. The up and down Knicks currently sit in 10th place in the East at 8-13.

Knick scorer extraordinaire 9th-year forward Carmelo Anthony led the team with 25 points in the much needed win after sitting out New York’s previous two games with nagging ankle, wrist and thumb injuries. All-Star Anthony couldn’t have returned at a better time with the Knicks kicking off their only back-to-back-to-back stretch of the compacted season against the imposing, but recently injury-depleted Bulls. Tonight’s 48-minute tussle will be Chicago’s fourth of nine straight games away from the United Center. So far they are 1-2 on this February road sojourn. New Bull 13th-year shooting guard Richard Hamilton won’t play tonight due to thigh and groin issues. However, 8th-year forward Luol Deng should be available
after a six-game absence due to a torn ligament in his wrist.

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty ImagesIf the former Dukie Deng is back at the 3 alongside center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer, also a Duke alum, the frontline matchup at the Mecca of Hoops will be top-notch considering the 3-4-5 starting for the Gothamites. Anthony, along with 10th-year, 6X All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire and 11th-year center Tyson Chandler, who spent the first five seasons of his career with Chicago, are considered by many haranguers of the hardwood to be the best frontline in the NBA today.

The last time Chicago lost two in a row in the regular season was almost a full calendar year ago on February 5th and 7th, 2011. In addition, MVP Rose has put up great numbers against the Knicks in their last six meetings: 26.2 ppg to go along with a 54.1 FG%. And veteran Boozer seems to love playing in the white-hot spotlight of West 33rd street NYC as well. In his last six trips to MSG he has averaged 22.5 ppg and 15.8 rpg.

Live coverage of Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks tips off at 8:00 PM ET on TNT following the announcement of the 2012 All-Star starting lineups.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Heat vs. Bulls Game 5

The Bulls turned up the heat in Game 4, but Miami made out with the 101-93 overtime win at home on Tuesday. The spoils of war add up to a commanding 3-1 lead for the Heatles in the Eastern Conference Finals. Once again, limiting King James to a mere mortal’s game proved a tough assignment. LeBron kicked it into gear and closed out Game 4 with a 35-point finish, his biggest of this series.

Chris Bosh contributed another solid 22-point performance. And the Heat got an extra dozen-point, nine-board boost from Mike Miller off the bench, as well as nine points from Mario Chalmers. Dwyane Wade still hasn’t broken out yet. The Bulls have done a great job containing him so far, but he’s like a sleeping giant who could bust out at any moment.

Whether or not Wade plays at the top of his game tonight, MVP Derrick Rose has to figure out how he’s going to attack Miami’s defense in Game 5 if he wants to keep his team in title contention. And Coach Tom Thibadeau must devise a plan to get him away from LeBron, who put a blanket on Rose for Chicago’s two most critical shots down the stretch in Game 4. Carlos Boozer needs another big game. And the bench has to contribute more to give Chicago the edge in tonight’s elimination match.

Miami knows that Dallas is ready and waiting to meet the winner of this grueling series. Every day that they allow it to go on gives Dallas that much more of an advantage in terms of preparation time and rest. Erik Spoelstra and his team are just one win away from manifesting their three-star master plan to compete for an NBA Title. But unlike last night’s contest in which the Mavericks’ execution and experience enabled them to seal the deal, I think Chicago has a good chance to capture the W and send this series back to Miami for Game 6. The Central Division Champion Chicago Bulls will host the Southeast Division Champion Miami Heat tonight in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at 8:30 PM ET on TNT.