How important is the Heat game?

661560.png

How important is the Heat game?

If you ask Joakim Noah, Wednesday's Bulls-Heat clash is just as big as it's been advertised.

Yeah, I think it's an important game. I mean, everybody sees it the way they want to see it. Maybe in the standings, but everybody knows tomorrow is a big game. Were all excited, the center said after the Bulls Tuesday-afternoon practice at the Berto Center. You want to play against the best. Its going to be a competitive game. They have a lot of great players. Its a team that eliminated us and went to the Finals. We just want to set the tone.

However, according to Tom Thibodeau, the showdown is only important because, as hes fond of saying, its the next game on the teams schedule, meaning there wouldnt be any extra preparation for the primetime affair.

Just all your normal stuff. For us, its not going to change. Every game, we do the same. The routine remains the same, said the coach, who had a one-on-one post-practice video session with Derrick Rose, a staple during last season. To me, theyre all the same. They all count the same. We have to be ready to play.

While Noah and Thibodeau have conflicting views on how big the game is, the two do share similar opinions on philosophy.

Play smart. Try to really limit our turnovers. Play good defense, which is something we havent done in a while, and play our game, said Noah. All these games against Miami are really, really close. We know we gave up a lot of points in transition off our turnovers. If we can limit that, it will work in our favor.

Echoed Thibodeau: We know we have to defend, weve got to rebound, weve got to take care of the ball. That was one thing in the game down there we felt we didnt do a good job of and the way they convert turnovers into points, if they get into the open floor, theyre hard to stop, so weve got to do a better job. More inside-out and well go from there.

Just run our offense. Theyre an excellent defensive team and LeBrons an excellent defender, and their team is excellent, so we have to try to attack them before theyre set and if they are set, weve got to move them, keep the ball moving, keep our bodies moving and the big thing is taking care of the ball, he continued. Theyre a good team. Were chasing them. Theyre the Eastern Conference champions from last year, so we know we have to come out and play real hard.

Thibodeau said that while the Bulls can take some lessons from their narrow late-January loss at Miami, he isnt dwelling on that outcome.

That ones long gone. The big thing for us is to learn from the games, move on, focus in on the next game and all were concentrating on is tomorrows game. Whats happened in the past is the past. Theres nothing you can do about it but learn from it, move on and be ready, he said. Theres not a big difference amongst teams in this league. The talents great on every team and Miami certainly has a lot of talent, and whats transpired in all our games is theyre usually very hard-fought and very close. At the end, it usually comes down to a hustle play and a make or a miss. Miamis tough. Theyre not going to beat themselves. You have to play well to beat them.

Noah discussed the fact that the East-leading Bulls are currently fighting off the Heat, who are second in the conference, for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

We know there are a lot of good teams so you have to take it one step at a time. But it would be ideal, he said. Its very important to hang onto home court. We know in the playoffs that home court means a lot. You still have to win on the road, but playing at home definitely helps.

Added swingman Ronnie Brewer: Thibs comes and tells us how important home court is for morale, if you want to make it deep in the playoffs and you dont really want to watch what other teams are doing because you hold your own destiny, but you look at the standings and see where the Heat are, where the third-place team is at, where the fourth-place team is at, and you just want to try to go out there and take care of business every time you step out on the court.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse