Familiar foes Bulls, Heat have mutual respect

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Familiar foes Bulls, Heat have mutual respect

MIAMI -- Always, said Joakim Noah, when asked about facing a familiar foe Friday night, the defending-champion Heat.

Its always big to play here, continued the center, who will return to action after a one-game absence, due to flu-like symptoms. Its going to be fun.

I dont think its just another team in the East. Theyre very good, we want to compete against the best and its always a battle, so its going to be exciting.

Thats an understatement. Obviously the Bulls arent considered an elite team by observers this season, partially due to Derrick Roses recovery from ACL surgery, as well as the departure of the majority of the Bench Mob, but that doesnt mean Miami isnt taking them seriously.

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They still have that Chicago Bulls fabric and toughness. They just grind. I think the fact their fifth in the Eastern Conference right now with the MVP out shows you the character of the team. Theyve had a lot of changes, their bench looks totally different and yet, they still find a way -- even after tough losses -- they find a way just to grind, stay in there and win enough games to get them right in the middle of the pack of that Eastern Conference, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after his teams morning shootaround. Theyre a dangerous team, and theyre mentally and physically tough enough to win in any building, and we know that, regardless of Rose being out, bench looking different, you know how theyre going to play, so its going to be an extremely physical, competitive game, likely will be close. It doesnt matter which building -- here or in Chicago -- and well have to earn it, and well have to play a complete, 48-minute game.

Reigning league MVP LeBron James concurred: We understand what Chicago brings. They bring a lot of size, a lot of physical play. Their defensive intensity makes you focus even more on your offense, your ball movement.

The respect is mutual, as the Bulls have gone toe-to-toe with the Heat frequently over the past two seasons and while they havent always come out on top, virtually every game has been a dogfight. But just because Miami has a title under its belt now, not to mention adding the likes of sharpshooter Ray Allen during free agency, dont expect the Bulls to defer to their rival, although theyre wary of the champions firepower.

Theyve added a significant player in Ray Allen, so the three-point shooting, its always been big, but its even bigger now, so their offense is spectacular. They added a lot to their team and they won the championship last year, so their depth makes them even more dangerous, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. A guy like Ray Allen is a big shot-maker late in the game, LeBron James continues to get better, Dwyane Wade is healthy again, Chris Bosh sort of fills in whatever needs they have for whatever particular game theyre playing. His skill sets unique; put him at the five, they can out-quick you up and down the floor. Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, those guys are great role players. Mario Chalmers is a guy who sort of flies under the radar, another great role player. So, its a team thats very well put together.

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Chimed in Noah, when asked about countering Miamis small-ball approach -- Bosh plays center now, something he previously resisted in his career -- something theyve used extensively since switching to it last postseason: Rebounding, defense, try to give them the least amount of opportunities in transition because when they start playing that fast-tempo, transition game theyre pretty much unstoppable, so its on us to try to slow them down as much as possibleIve never faced it before, so well have to wait and see, see what it looks like, but theyre obviously very talented, they spread the floor very well, theyve got great shooters and they have great talent, but they still post up a lot with LeBron, so they have a lot of offensive firepower.

For Miamis part, they aren't taking the Bulls for granted and even without Rose in the lineup, the Eastern Conference squad thats given them the fiercest battles over the last two seasons is still must-see TV.

Ive seen them. Ive watched them -- a lot -- and the adjustments theyve made, theyve kind of went away from the pick-and-roll theyve done in the past with D-Rose being such a good pick-and-roll player, to a lot of catch-and-shoot, using Joakim at the high post because hes such a great passer and a facilitator, James explained. Also getting the ball into Luols hands, as well, because hes a really good offensive player, as well, so they do a good job of getting everybody involved in their offense, not having their MVP out there.

Bosh added: They all play a certain type of way. They play physical basketball and we pride ourselves on being able to play a bunch of different styles, and they present a unique challenge. They play a lot of good team ball. They have a very unique defense, where they really try to slow the pace down a little bit, so we just have to make sure we play sure our game. Usually, the team that plays their game, where theyre in their comfort zone, is the aggressor and we want to play our style of basketball.

Its always a challenge as a player, putting everything to the test, putting your skills to the test, intensity, focus. A national-TV game, of course. We know the energys going to be great and to be able to just showcase your talent, both team-wise and individually, its always a good time, he continued. We know how they play. Theyre going to crash the boards, its going to be physical. You know theyre a paint team, they want to get down there and get in the paint.

Wade concurred: Its a competitive team and we enjoy playing competitive games, and this team is very competitive and theyre physical, whatever they let the game be called. For us, were just going to continue to try to play our game and well see what happens from there, but I think the Bulls are a team who I think surprised a lot of guys early on without D-Rose and making some offseason moves, and still be the team we became accustomed to. When you talk about defensively, rebounding the ball, theyre still that team and a very tough team to play, a gritty team, so theyve got some very good wins, especially on the road, and weve got to come out and protect home court.

Even Bulls players you wouldnt necessarily think of immediately -- veteran guards Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich, for instance -- are on Miamis radar.

Theyre two good NBA players. Rip is a world champion and hes done so many great things in this league, James said. Kirk has always been solid, no matter where hes been. His first stint in Chicago, in Atlanta and now back in Chicago, hes been really good, not only for the team hes been on, but for this league. We respect everyone.

Wade added: Rip is one of those guys, since Ive came in the league, Ive had multiple battles with. You play guys in the Eastern Conference Finals and youre going to have those war marks, war wounds, and weve had that, so weve had many battles, but I respect Rip as a player and what hes been able to do consistently in this league from that standpoint. So, he brings the best out of me and I feel I do the same.

One things for sure: Miami is a game that every opponent gets up for, but unlike other opponents, the Heat will be equally ready for the Bulls. That said, the visitors to American Airlines Arena want to maintain the same approach thats served them so well during Thibodeaus tenure.

Thats why you want to build the right habits, so you dont want to change your approach for any game. You want to be consistent, you want to do the same things to get ready for an opponent: know them well, know what youre trying to get to, analyze their strengths and weaknesses and then, you have to go out and execute, the coach said. Its the next game and again, from the start of the season, we didnt want to change. We wanted our approach to improve every day, get better and hopefully be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, and be healthy.

LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan's record by becoming NBA's all-time leading playoff scorer

LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan's record by becoming NBA's all-time leading playoff scorer

The LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan debate tends to heat up around playoff time, and The King fueled the fire Thursday with his latest accomplishment.

After sinking a 3-pointer in the third quarter of Game 5 against the Boston Celtics, the four-time NBA MVP surpassed Jordan for most postseason points in league history with 5,989. Jordan scored 5,987 points in 179 games while it took James 212 to surpass that mark.

Before the game, James said that chasing Jordan has been a personal goal of his and left the debate to media members.

The SportsTalk Live panel talked about those comments, and joined in on the debate in the video above.

Swanigan's, Diallo's decisions and how it affects Bulls' NBA Draft

Swanigan's, Diallo's decisions and how it affects Bulls' NBA Draft

The deadline for underclassmen to pull their names out of the NBA Draft passed on Wednesday at midnight.

There were a few surprises, and a handful of decisions had an effect on how the Bulls will go about next month's draft.

Staying in the draft

Caleb Swangian, PF, Purdue: The sophomore All-American surprised many by keeping his name in the draft. Swanigan actually tested the waters after his freshman season but returned to the Boilermakers in 2016. He averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 35 games, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors and was a National Player of the Year candidate. It's no secret the 6-foot-9 Swangian can score  - he had 15 games of 20 or more points - and showed some ability to shoot from deep, making nearly 45 percent of his 85 3-point attempts. Quickness and conditioning will be the real test for the 245-pound Swanigan, who has already lost significant weight since high school. Questions about his defense (he had just 27 steals and 36 blocks in two seasons) also stand out. With Nikola Mirotic's future in Chicago unknown, the Bulls could be in the market for depth at power forward. He wouldn't be an option for the Bulls at No. 14, but if he slides out of the first round he could be an option at No. 38.

D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan: After averaging just 6.1 minutes as a sophomore, Wilson burst onto the scene as a junior, averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 30.4 minutes for the Wolverines. He did his best work during the postseason; during Michigan's Big Ten Championship run and Sweet 16 appearance, Wilson averaged 15.6 points on 54 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Standing 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Wilson leaves some to be desired on the defensive end but has the ability to play as a combo forward - he had a 3-inch growth spurt after high school. Like Swanigan, Wilson won't be an option for the Bulls at No. 14 but could be a second-round option. He'd give the Bulls a similar look to what Bobby Portis does with a little more versatility on the wing.

Going back to college

Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky: The NBA Draft's biggest mystery could have been a home-run selection for the Bulls in the first round. Alas, Diallo has decided to play a year under John Calipari at Kentucky and likely boost his draft stock. Having not played since December, where he played at a prep academy in Connecticut, so there wasn't much film of the 6-foot-5 leaper. Still, after Thon Maker went No. 10 to the Bucks last year there was thought that a team would take a gamble on a high-upside mystery.

Andrew Jones, PG, Texas: There was little surprise that Jones, a five-star recruit who put together a solid freshman season, returned. He's still a bit raw as a prospect despite having elite size (6-foot-4) and solid athleticism, and another year running the point with incoming five-star recruit Mo Bomba could really improve his draft stock. The Bulls clearly have a need at the point (less if Rajon Rondo returns) and if Jones had made the leap he likely would have been around at No. 38. Even still, Jones is a player to keep an eye on during next year's draft, assuming Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant don't make significant improvements.

Moritz Wagner, PF, Michigan: There's a need on every NBA team for a stretch forward with 3-point potential. But those teams will have to wait at least another year after Wagner decided to return to Michigan for his junior season. Like Wilson, who kept his name in the draft, Wagner had an excellent postseason run for the Wolverines. That stretch included a 17-point effort against Minnesota and a career-high 26-point outing in a win over Louisville. He weighed in at just 231 pounds and only averaged 4.2 rebounds per game, so adding some strength to his game will help his draft prospect for next year. He could have been an option for the Bulls at No. 38.