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.

Czar’s Finals Preview: Heat vs. Mavericks Game 5

The 2011 NBA Finals are shaping up to be another seven-game series. As in the two previous contests, Game 4 came down to the last possession. As if going up against Miami’s swarming defense weren’t a big enough challenge for lead man Dirk Nowitzki, he had to conquer some of his own demons to help his team get back on track after dropping Game 3 at home.

Still recovering from a torn a tendon in his left, middle finger, Dirk took to the court with a 101-degree fever on Tuesday night. True to form, Dirk dug deep and spirited another spectacular comeback against Miami with ten points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter in route to an 86-83 victory.

Dirk got the help he needed from his fellow starters, as well as Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson off the bench. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle changed up the starting lineup, inserting J.J. Barea into the first string, which made Dallas a little bit faster in the backcourt. Bringing in DeShawn Stevenson off the bench gave Shawn Marion a bigger break and enabled him to be fresher when he came back into the game to guard LeBron James, who was limited to only 8 points total.

LBJ was uncharacteristically absent in Game 4 and has been put through the ringer for his so-called disappearing act. In his own words, Game 5 will be the biggest game of LeBron’s career. I expect him to bounce back with a more aggressive performance. Dwyane Wade was spectacular once again for Miami, putting up 32 points. He’s averaging just under 30 points per game in the Finals. And Chris Bosh also came out strong with 24 points.

It remains to be seen how Dallas will handle D-Wade in Game 5 and whether they will go to zone D tonight. Many people credit the Mavs’ matchup zone defense for playing such an important part in their team’s success in guarding the athletic Miami Heat, forcing them to be a jump shooting team rather than a driving, slashing team. Coach Erik Spoelstra was probably not too upset with Miami’s defensive effort in Game 4. Spoelstra’s bigger concern in Game 5 will be point productivity on the offensive end of the floor.

Tied at two games apiece, both the Mavericks and Heat must come out with passion and energy and treat this high-pressure Game 5 like it’s a one-and-done. The Mavs will try to keep momentum on their side and take a 3-2 lead when they host the Heat for the last time in this Finals series at 9:00 PM ET. Obviously, if Miami comes away with the win they’ll gain a decided advantage in this series before heading home for the last two games in their own building.