With a rich playoff history that has recently developed into a rivalry, the Miami Heat prepare to face off against the Chicago Bulls in game three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals (8.05pm ET, Friday). With the series tied at one game apiece, Chicago will have a chance to close it out at home as the series heads to the United Center for games three, four and five.
After trailing late in game one, the Bulls charged back with a 10-0 run in the closing minutes to shock the Heat by a final score of 93-86. Nate Robinson led all scorers with 27 points as Chicago bested the spread favoring Miami.
In game two however, the Heat absolutely got their revenge, silencing any doubters about their ability to defend their title. They crushed the Bulls by a monstrous 37 points, setting a franchise record for biggest playoff victory and for Chicago, a franchise record for largest playoff defeat.
In game three, Miami should be able to carry the momentum over. However, Chicago, a 24-17 team at home, will have the advantage of playing in front of their own crowd.
BetOnline currently has the spread set at -7 in favor of the Heat, who were a much more pedestrian team on the road this season, with 12 of their 16 losses coming away from Miami.
Here are some of the storylines to watch for:
Will Game 3 See a Return of Derrick Rose and will it Matter for the Bulls if it does?
Chicago fans literally sat with bated breath when their team leader and All-Star Derrick Rose fell to the ground in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. There was a meaningless 1:22 left in the fourth quarter and some questioned why Rose was still in the game at all.
Following the game which the Bulls won, an MRI revealed that Rose had sustained a pretty bad ACL injury and that he would be out for the rest of the playoffs. Without Rose, the Bulls struggled with their identity and ended up losing the series to the Sixers.
But the biggest loss was not the early playoff exit, but rather Rose’s absence. His injury ended up keeping him out much longer than many would have expected.
In fact, since Rose left that game on April 29, 2012, he has yet to make his triumphant return to the courts.
That said, Rose was cleared by team doctors to play back in March and although he is not yet 100 percent, the superstar point guard has not ruled out a return in the playoffs, specifically game three at home against the Heat.
While no one wants to defeat the Heat more than Rose, whose own playoff dreams have been dashed several times by Lebron and company, it is possible his return would be more detrimental to the Bulls than beneficial.
In Rose’s extended absence, Joakim Noah has truly taken on the reigns as the team leader. While not known as a career scorer, Rose averaged 11.9 PPG and 11.1 RPG as he led the Bulls. Noah was supported by Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, both who averaged over 16 points a game this season.
Of course, Rose is the bonafide superstar and if he is available and ready to go, there really is no question that he should be in the game, playing max minutes and given the ball any chance there is to get him the ball. He averages over 21 PPG in his career as well as 7+ APG. Any offensive production he can provide would only help the Bulls have a chance to win and a chance to top the spread.
Lebron James’ Cast of Characters
Make no mistake, the Miami Heat are 4x MVP Lebron James’ team.
However, James’ cast of characters as it were, have stepped up more lately and contributed to lead the Heat to a 66-win season. Because of this, Lebron can have an off day and it won’t diminish the Heat’s chances for victory.
In the past, this wasn’t always the case.
A perfect example of this was in the Heat’s game two blowout over the Bulls. James scored just 19 of Miami’s 115 points, which for him, is considered an off day. Ray Allen added a team-high 21, Norris Cole, 18, Dwayne Wade, 15 and Chris Bosh, 13.
It was absolutely an all-out team effort and as a result, James’ 19 point performance didn’t cost the team.
That being said, the inverse of this situation is what has cost Miami this season and in the past. As good as James is, he cannot always carry the team. If he has an off day and so does the rest of the Heat, then it won’t look good, much in the same way it was when the Bulls won game one.
James led all Miami players with 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Unlike in game two however, where the Heat had balanced scoring, Wade was the only player in double figures. And essentially, James got no help.
The Bulls meanwhile got an incredible game out of Nate Robinson, but as they have at their most successful points this season, also got balanced scoring from almost all of their starters. They had five total players in double figures.
The moral of the story? If the Heat don’t support James and the Bulls continue to sustain balanced scoring, Chicago has an excellent shot to steal one away at home. If the Heat do manage to back James, Miami will breeze through game three as well as every game left on their 2013 playoff schedule.
Chicago v Miami Final Pick
It is very likely the spread will extend beyond the 7 points currently favoring the Heat, but even if it doesn’t, I still like Chicago to best the mark and keep it close. Win or lose, the Bulls have home court advantage and that always counts for something.