Bulls-Heat not just another game

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Bulls-Heat not just another game

MIAMI -- It's the biggest NBA game of the season! Its outcome will have implications that will be remembered in June!

For once, it's no exaggeration. Well, not completely.

Sunday's showdown between the Bulls and Heat is truly the NBA's most anticipated event of the season, at least thus far. But it's just another regular-season game.

Still, let's be honest: Chicago and Miami are the class of the East, and no disrespect to current league-best Oklahoma City -- or other West contenders, such as defending-champion Dallas, the two L.A. teams or even underrated Memphis -- but a game pitting the reigning MVP, Coach of the Year and what's regarded as the best defense in the business against the "Big Three" is as good as it gets for late January, especially in this lockout-shortened campaign. And Derrick Rose can downplay it, but all eyes will be on Biscayne Blvd. Sunday afternoon.

Since the last time the two squads faced off, in the Eastern Conference Finals, much of the personnel has stayed the same. However, the offseason moves made by the respective front offices have been impactful.

Role players were the Heat's focus, as veteran "three-and-D" specialist Shane Battier, rookie point guard Norris Cole and even former Bulls center Eddy Curry, a Chicago native, took their talents. Meanwhile, the Bulls opted for quality over quantity, acquiring Rip Hamilton to fill their void at shooting guard, the team's only addition since last season, now that the short stint of journeyman point guard Mike James, waived Saturday, is over.

While those moves will have some say in Sunday's result, a cursory analysis of the matchups and brief evaluation of the season to date reveals that many of the same questions from a year ago still exist. But whether LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can be simultaneously productive, Rose gets enough help from the highly-scrutinized big-man duo of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer or even if Luol Deng returns from torn ligaments in his left wrist is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

For the record, Bosh was playing some of the best basketball of his brief tenure in Miami prior to Wade, who looked remarkably spry in Friday night's Heat win over the reeling Knicks, returning from a sprained ankle. Unfortunately for Bulls fans, James' issues in the clutch haven't yet against Chicago. And while there will likely be plenty of focus on Rose's approach and how the Bulls' big men play following their various struggles last spring, perhaps a more important aspect of the game will be how effective the Bulls' perimeter players -- such as Hamilton, who, like Deng, is a game-time decision -- are when Miami's defense inevitably collapses on Rose.

Regardless of whether the two teams are prohibitive favorites to face off again at the same juncture where they met last postseason, keep in mind that the Bulls swept last year's regular-season series over the Heat before bowing out in five games in the conference finals, an indicator that, game of the season or not, maybe less significance should be placed on an early-January affair. But boy, won't it be fun to watch?

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Sunday: 

Tonight on CSN: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Today on CSN: White Sox battle Dodgers in spring training game

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups.