The Chicago Bulls have lost six of seven games, are without their starting backcourt in Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, and are likely still feeling the effects of a six-game West Coast road trip and triple-overtime loss at home just three days ago.
Yet despite all the factors going against Tom Thibodeau's group, don't expect the Miami Heat to be overlooking them tonight at the United Center.
Erik Spoelstra and the two-time defending champions arrive in Chicago off a 107-97 loss at home to the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday that ended a 10-game winning streak. They still hold the second best record in the Eastern Conference at 14-4 (trailing only 17-2 Indiana) and two-time reigning MVP LeBron James has continued to evolve his unprecedented game.
But the Heat know it's a different story when they arrive in Chicago.
"Yeah, we’ve been here a lot," All-Star forward Chris Bosh said. "I was looking at it, it’s pretty familiar in here and that’s an eerie feeling when you’re on the road. So I think between playoff battles and regular season battles it’s become a familiar place to us and I know, for me personally, I always look forward to playing here."
Spoelstra also hasn't read much into what the Bulls have done the past two weeks, noting that a rivalry game such as this one usually negates any momentum or struggles a team is riding.
"Whatever is happening to them during the course of the season, it usually doesn’t matter when we face each other," he said. "We know what to expect from them."
The Bulls were embarrassed in Miami on Opening Night when the defending champions raced out to a 21-point first-half lead in a 107-95 win. Rose played in that contest (12 points, four assists) but the Bulls are familiar with playing Miami without their star.
A year ago the Rose-less Bulls shocked the top seed with a Game 1 win in the second round of the playoffs. And though the Heat went on to win four straight and the series, Spoelstra remembers the series well.
"That second-round series we had with them last year without Rose was as tough as any of our series," he said. "Even though it only went five games it felt like it was a seven-game series."
Emotions have gotten the best of some in this matchup in the past -- most notably Nazr Mohammed shoving LeBron James in Game 3 of last year's playoff series -- but Spoelstra admitted that while history has created a build-up for whenever these two teams play, his group must put that aside and play smart, efficient basketball to have a shot at leaving Chicago with a win.
"Both teams look forward to play each other, for whatever reason. There’s been a lot of conjecture, and how the teams feel about each other really is irrelevant. You have to outplay the other team, and when you face a team multiple times in a row in the playoffs that usually spurs a little bit more energy, motivation."
The Heat may again be without the services of Dwyane Wade, who missed this morning's shootaround with an illness and likely will be a game-time decision. They're already without reserve center Chris Andersen, who did not travel with the team for personal reasons.
Though the Heat have an advantage on paper, Bosh knows that the personnel in Chicago doesn't change what the team, led by Thibodeau, is built upon.
"That never changes," Bosh said of the Bulls' rugged style. "They play hard, they’re going to play good defense and they’re going to play with passion here at home. And that’s never going to change, as long as they have those same core players that they always have. So we’re looking forward to the challenge and it’s going to be a tough game tonight."