Home Is Where the Heat Is Versus Bulls


Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The AmericanAirlines Arena has been without its best tenant, the Miami Heat, in nearly three weeks.

But the boys are back in town in rousing fashion, where they’ll host the Chicago Bulls in a nationally-televised game on Sunday.

Miami (39-14) just finished a six-game road trip that was also interrupted by the All-Star Break. The Heat went 5-1 on the trip, beating Western Conference playoff contenders Phoenix, Dallas, Los Angeles (Clippers, of course) and Golden State. But their best game may have been the last one, a beatdown of the title-chasing Oklahoma City Thunder that featured a dominant performance from LeBron James.

James was exceptional, hitting his first five shots and finishing with 33 points. His game ended prematurely on this play:

LeBron avoided a concussion but was later diagnosed with a broken nose; he is a game time decision against Chicago but is expected to play.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were great against OKC, with both hitting regularly from mid-range on their way to a combined 48 points. They’ll be expected to carry the load if James sits out the Bulls game.

As for Chicago…this season has been a journey of ups-and-downs. The year started with promise and with star point guard Derrick Rose back in the lineup only to have championship hopes dashed by Rose’s season-ending injured knee. Then long-time Bull and defensive stalwart Luol Deng was traded away, a free agency casualty that was expected to command a lot of money this summer. How have the Bulls responded?

By playing their best basketball all season.

The loss of Rose and Deng could have been crushing but Coach Tom Thibodeau has kept the team focused and currently the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference. While much of the credit has gone – and rightfully so – to All-Star and Heat nemesis Joakim Noah, another unexpected source has also helped the Bulls; journeyman point guard D.J. Augustin.

As per Noah, himself:

"“He’s changed everything. Changed our team. We were really down in the dumps, D.J. came in, he’s a great scoring punch for us, he makes easy offense for other guys. For me personally, I don’t think I would’ve made the All-Star Game if it wasn’t for D.J.”"

Hell of a lot of praise for a guy on his fourth team in his short career and who was booted from the Toronto Raptors earlier this season.

And with renewed intensity, expect the matchup against Miami to be a highly-contested battle.

The telecast of this game begins at 3:30 P.M. on ABC from the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game.

It’s been a while but back, by (un-)popular demand is…

The Big Three Questions for the Game:

How Have the Bulls Stayed Successful?

This isn’t as unexpected as you might think. Let’s be honest, Chicago has been very good for years, especially during the regular season. They’re well-coached and hard working. The loss of two key starters would have ended the seasons for a lot of teams but the Bulls have kept fighting. Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy have all upped their games. The real question is whether it will be enough, either against Miami or in the postseason.

Who is the X-Factor for the Miami?

This is a trick question, considering James’ uncertain status. Assuming LeBron plays, I see Mario Chalmers as the x-factor. The reason for that is Augustin. Chalmers has had a rivalry since meeting in the NCAA title game, and one that’s translated into their professional careers. Look for the battle between these two to get a little testy.

Given James’ Recent Play, is he the MVP?

I think so. Take my word for what it’s worth, but LeBron’s been incredible lately even surpassing Kevin Duran’s success in January. Outplaying him on Thursday has shifted the tide but it was the way he did so – intensely, utterly dominant and almost perfectly – that has made this race competitive again. But there’s a lot of basketball left to be played and this one may go down to the wire.