Are the Bulls chasing the Heat, or vice versa?


Apr 12

When you ask members of the Bulls to talk about the race in the Eastern Conference, it’s a reasonably safe bet that they’ll say they’re chasing the Miami Heat.

The Heat, after all, defeated the Bulls in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals in five games before falling to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.

Miami players, however, are giving a different response to the same question.

“They’re the best team right now in the NBA,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of the Bulls following Miami’s shootaround at the United Center on Thursday. “They can say something nice about us and we can say something nice about them, but at the end of the day, they’re a helluva ballclub. A heckuva team.

“They’re very deep and it’s tough to beat them,” continued Wade. “Obviously, last year, it was very close. Yeah, we’re the Eastern Conference champs and you have to knock down the champs. But at the same time, we’re still chasing a team that has gotten better from last year and who is the best team in the NBA right now. We have to chase them.”

Indeed, entering Thursday’s nationally televised contest, Chicago owns a three-game lead over Miami, as well as the best record in the league at 44-14.

But obviously given the outcome of last season’s playoff meeting between the Bulls and Heat, the edge still goes to Miami, right?

“Not right now,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh. “We’re not playing our best basketball, but we’re about to turn the corner. The playoffs are coming up and tonight is going to be a playoff atmosphere. I understand the psyche that [the Bulls] have right now, but in all actuality, they have the best record and they are the number one team in the East right now. So we’re chasing them.”

Miami’s LeBron James was less forthcoming about which team he believes is doing the chasing.

“Honestly, we don’t know who has the edge on who right now,” said James. “Both teams are trying to play at a high level, gear themselves towards the playoffs, and be consistent.”

Consistency has not been the Heat’s strong point as of late. In its last ten games, Miami has gone 5-5. Most recently, the Heat allowed the Celtics to shoot over 60 percent from the field in a 115-107 loss at home on Tuesday. That’s not exactly the sign of a team nearing its peak for the postseason.

“Some games we’re close, some games we’re not,” said James of reaching an optimal level by the end of the regular season, just three weeks away. “I don’t want to say we’re inconsistent; we’re just losing some ballgames we know we’re capable of winning. But at the same time, we’re playing some good ball. We have one of the toughest schedules in the league, and every night we go out, teams want to beat us. We have to play at a high level.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who also reminded reporters that his team trails the Bulls in the standings, didn’t shy away from the importance of Thursday’s game.

“It’s an opportunity for a signature road win,” said Spoelstra.

When pressed on how close he feels Miami is to reaching a desired level of play for the postseason, he continued with that theme.

“It doesn’t take much,” said Spoelstra. “It can be one signature road win. That can change your perspective of everything in terms of going into the postseason. It doesn’t take a whole lot. The momentum can sway considerably day to day. So we’re one win away.”

The Bulls will try to prevent that win from coming Thursday at the United Center. And given the teams face each other one more time this season—next Thursday in Miami—players on both sides understand what is up for grabs.

For the Heat, of course, it’s the opportunity to surpass the Bulls and enter the postseason as the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

“It is there,” said Wade. “You’ve got to win games. A game like tonight, if you want the number one seed, you have to go out and win it.”

Added James, “We’re not a team that needs to build confidence, but we’re a team that wants to play well on the road, which we haven’t done since the [All-Star] break. This is a tough environment to play in. They’re well coached and they have great players.”

Audio—Heat forward LeBron James (04.12.2012):

Audio—Heat guard Dwyane Wade (04.12.2012):

Audio—Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (04.12.2012):

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