Bulls/Heat losing some of its luster


Mar 13

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Late Tuesday afternoon, Derrick Rose was rear-ended by a Saturn. Later that evening, the Miami Heat felt like they had rings run around them in an overtime loss to the Orlando Magic.

Welcome to the next chapter of the battle for the Eastern Conference universe Wednesday at the United Center. The Miami Heat are already moaning about having to play a back to back in an elite matchup, while the Bulls are bringing back Mike James because Rose didn’t practice with some groin soreness after a hard fall in Monday’s win over New York.

The fates of Luol Deng and C.J. Watson remain uncertain, though Deng seems more likely to play against the Heat than Watson. Richard Hamilton, of course, is out, an overused sentence.

That means the starting lineup for the Bulls Wednesday could be Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, John Lucas, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. I assume Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau would then declare the team has enough to win and spring from his seat the first possession of the game to wonder why someone from Miami had scored.

It’s too bad there can’t be more in this kind of regular season matchup, though Thibodeau did say at practice he believed Rose would play. Of course, Thibodeau always says that, especially before a Miami game and knowing Pat Riley could be using infrared listening devices from space.

Rose, by the way, was OK after the fender bender. The state police reported his Bentley was struck from behind by a Saturn near the Ogden exit for United Center on the Kennedy. Although I don’t use the Kennedy much, I assumed the express lanes were for Bentleys and the locals for Saturns. So I’m a bit perplexed how this could happen.

Nevertheless, Rose declined treatment and then decided to buy the Kennedy.

Rose, by the way, was find $25,000 by the NBA Tuesday for his comments critical of the officiating in Monday’s game against the Knicks in which Rose received several standing eight counts but few foul calls. Though perhaps this was Rose doing his best Phil Jackson to call attention to his plight before a big game with Miami. Old school.

We know from last season’s results there is no real carryover from the regular season to the playoffs. The Bulls won all three regular season games with Miami, but then lost 4-1 in the conference finals to Miami.

But these games are important because these games really are what the season is about. Sure, the ultimate goal is a championship so fans can hold up big foam fingers and declare themselves champions. The NBA playoffs are great sustained drama.

“I think it’s an important game,” said Noah at practice. “Everybody sees it the way they want to see it. Maybe in the standings, but everybody knows tomorrow is a big game. We’re all excited. You want to play against the best. It’s going to be a competitive game. They have a lot of great players. It’s a team that eliminated us and went to the Finals. We just want to set the tone.”

But the essence of the NBA, really, is the wonderful regular season matchups. That’s where the game really is in its most pure form. There isn’t as much time for the exacting preparation, and the players get to play without the weight of everyone examining and dissecting every one of their moves and actions.

It’s a game again, a real competition like they played for free when it was for fun and the biggest prize was possession of the court for the next game. Which was really big stakes at the time.

Given that, I would expect Rose to play if he can.

Though we then get back to the tired argument here of resting everyone but equipment guru John Ligmanowski for the playoffs.

You want these games to matter even if they don’t matter. You want to see if the Bulls can handle Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, if Chris Bosh can get hot again or just hot at being defended by Omer Asik. You want to see what Rose does when the Heat put James on him, when the Heat collapse on Rose and who emerges, if anyone.

That was what was great about the NBA when there were rivalries. Yes, the Bulls always looked toward spring to play the Pistons. But there were the regular season moments that strengthened the rivalry, of Doug Collins being pinned by Rick Mahorn, Charles Oakley firing back, Michael Jordan getting 59 on Isiah Thomas on Easter Sunday in the Silverdome in one of those Jordan’s rising games, or his 61 in an overtime win in Detroit or Thomas getting 30 in a one point Pistons win.

It’s difficult to say the Bulls and Heat is a rivalry with one playoff series and a few regular season games in which some key figure generally was out except for the last game last season.

You want to see this matchup between the Bulls and Heat because it is potentially one of the best in the league. The Bulls have what Miami doesn’t and Miami has what the Bulls don’t.

The Bulls have size and interior presence, which generally bothers Miami. James doesn’t particularly like to drive into traffic, which is why the Magic has had success against Miami despite the disparity in talent. And it would be a good chance to spring that zone on Miami and see how they deal with it, which generally hasn’t been good this season. I wondered if that was what Thibodeau, the anti-Jim Boeheim, was up to against the Knicks when he threw zones at them two or three times.

Then there’s what Miami has which the Bulls don’t, the amazing athletic wing players. The book against Miami always is to keep them out of transition. But the Bulls have been a relatively high turnover team of late, which is fatal against the Heat.

And have the Bulls found an answer for Bosh, who was the difference maker in the conference finals. Can Carlos Boozer make more impact? Will we see Eddy Curry?

Hamilton was supposed to be the answer in some measure for the scoring issues, and he was good in the earlier game in Miami which the Heat won late. But Hamilton hasn’t played much since. He is expected back when the teams play again twice in April, so perhaps those games will be a better test. Still, with so few regular season games anymore between potential playoff rivals you hate to see one like this come up indifferent.

Already even before the game with Orlando, there were items in Miami media about how dare the league put the Heat in a second of a back to back on the road while the Bulls rested. And then the Heat played overtime Tuesday in Orlando, though it didn’t seem like James exerted himself much after the third quarter. He must be getting as much rest as he can for Korver.

Given the Bulls were bringing Mike James back, if only to confuse the headline writers should the Heat win, it seemed doubtful they were close to any trades with the trading deadline Thursday. The latest Bulls related rumor was a repeat of the earlier Pau Gasol rumor that he was coming to the Bulls.

Look, I’m sure they’d love to have him. Who wouldn’t? He’s been regarded as a top two or three center the last five years, sometimes even considered the best because of his versatility. So let me get this straight: The Lakers are third in the West, two games out of second, and they have decided to trade Gasol. So they can get Boozer? Deng? Who’s going to be the one to tell Kobe? I assume the Bulls talked to the Lakers about Gasol. Probably Andrew Bynum, too. I assume they talked to the Magic about Dwight Howard and the Celtics about Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and the Warriors about Monta Ellis. That’s what they should be doing. The question is what you can give up and what they’d take.

As for Howard, I saw his interview after the Miami game in which he said he wants to stay now for this season. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Though I liked the Bucks/Warriors deal for the Bucks. Though they won’t guard anyone and Scott Skiles could lose his hair — oh, right — Ellis and Brandon Jennings with Ersan Ilyasova is a heck of a scoring unit now. As for the Warriors, I am not quite sure what they are thinking other than, “Wow, did you see the Golden Gate today at sunset? The brilliance of the sun bounced deep orange hues off the fluffy, cumulus clouds and ignited the sky in a fiery radiance, a giant kaleidoscope tinted a vibrant pink with purple streaks that played off the mountains like a rich symphony of design. The snow capped peaks danced in a symphony of radiance that shimmered like pools of wavy elegance amidst the bright heavens. How about another glass of Chablis?”

Now Friday when it’s Bulls/Blazers… yes, we’re talkin’ rivalry.

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