United Center is the next stop for streaking Heat

United Center is the next stop for streaking Heat
March 25, 2013, 9:45 pm
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Now that the Miami Heat has extended its winning streak to 27 games, the Bulls find themselves in the national spotlight as the next team with a chance to knock off LeBron and company. The Heat were able to beat the lowly Bobcats and Magic without All-Star guard Dwyane Wade, who sat out with what’s being called a bruised knee, but rest assured the Robbins native will be in the line-up for Wednesday’s showdown.

The Bulls have already lost one home game to the Heat during the streak. That came on February 21st, when the offense went missing in action during an 86-67 loss. This time around, they figure to be shorthanded against the World Champs, especially if Joakim Noah can’t play after sitting out the last 2 games because of a flare-up of plantar fasciitis.

Injuries have played a big part in the Bulls’ 10-14 record since February 1st.  As we all know, Derrick Rose hasn’t played all season, while Rip Hamilton has missed 24 games and Kirk Hinrich 22 because of a variety of aches and pains. Add in recent injuries to Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli, and it’s amazing the Bulls still own the 6th best record in the East. Jimmy Butler and little Nate Robinson are the only Bulls to appear in all 69 games this season.

So, what do the Bulls have to do to end Miami’s streak? The formula for beating the Heat is actually pretty simple, it’s executing the plan against 3 All-Stars that’s so difficult. Number one, you have to avoid turnovers. Careless mistakes ignite Miami’s lethal fastbreak, which usually ends in a highlight reel dunk for LeBron or Wade. Number 2, take advantage of Miami ‘s lack of size up front by pounding the ball inside on the offensive end. This is where the Bulls would figure to have an advantage with Noah and Carlos Boozer on the frontline, backed up by Gibson and Nazr Mohammed. Hinrich needs to get the Bulls into their half-court sets, and get the ball inside to Noah & Boozer for some early offense, especially since Miami has been getting off to slow starts in recent games. And, many of us still have that Gibson poster from his monster dunk over Wade in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011. How about another Taj-Mahal Wednesday night?

Number 3, dominate the backboards on both ends. Despite their dominant record, Miami is not a great rebounding team, and if they can’t control the backboards, they can’t push the tempo the way they’d like.  And finally, number 4, contain Miami’s 3 point shooters. Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mike Miller are all capable of hitting big shots, and if the Bulls focus all of their defensive attention on James and Wade, Miami’s collection of sharp-shooters will make them pay.

As the streak has grown to the 2nd longest in NBA history, the pressure is starting to mount on the defending champs. Somehow, they rallied from 27 points down to win at Cleveland last week, but I can’t see them coming back from that kind of deficit at the United Center with a team that executes on the defensive end like the Bulls. If Noah is healthy, and can play his normal minutes, the Bulls have a decent shot at ending the streak Wednesday night.

Tune in to Comcast SportsNet for the home team call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. Coverage begins with SportsTalk Live at 5 p.m, followed by SportsNet Central at 6 and Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6:30. We’ll bring you wall to wall live coverage from the United Center, so make your plans to join us.