Will Hassan Whiteside Return to Help Beat Chicago?


The Miami Heat (19-24) are undoubtedly struggling, mostly on the offensive end, and face one of the toughest defensive teams in the NBA when they face the Chicago Bulls on Sunday afternoon. Coming away with victories has been increasingly difficult for the Heat, a point Dwyane Wade made to reporters earlier this week (via ESPN.com):

"“The way this season has went for us, I don’t care if we won by 20 or we won by a point or half a point.”"

The Bulls (29-16) won’t make that easy for Miami, bouncing back from a recent skid with back-to-back victories over the Spurs and Mavericks, holding both team to a combined 41.5 percent shooting after allowing an average of 108.8 points and 50.5 percent shooting in their previous five contests.

But a team meeting to clear up any issues in the Chicago locker room seems to have worked and the team is looking to make a statement against the Heat before moving on to a tough six-game road trip.

For Miami, who nearly blew a huge lead in a tight victory over the Pacers on Friday, it’s vital to get Hassan Whiteside back on the court after he sprained his ankle the previous week. Whiteside has become an increasingly-important part of the team, defying all odds by become a necessary rim protector and potent offensive force. Without him catching lobs for easy scores, the Heat have fallen into a predicable pattern of failing to score in the second half, a habit that nearly doomed them versus Indiana.

Nothing has yet been confirmed about Whiteside’s availability, with the team listing him as “day-to-day” since his injury. He could give the Heat a slight advantage in the middle against Bulls center Joakim Noah, a solid defender of the pick-and-rolls that have freed up Whiteside with such frequency this season.

One player who will definitely be making an emotional return in Chicago is forward Luol Deng, who spent over nine seasons with the Bulls. Drafted by the team after a brief stint at Duke University, Deng was traded away to the Cavaliers midway through last season before signing with Miami this past summer.

This will be the first time Deng visits Chicago as a member of an opposing team, although he’s faced his former teammates twice since the trade.

It’s likely that Deng will be welcomed back with cheers when he steps on the United Center floor. How he responds to the swirl of emotions is anyone’s guess.

Chris Bosh faces a difficult challenge in dealing with Pau Gasol, who was voted as an All-Star in his first year with Chicago. Bosh has matched up well in previous meetings, winning 10-of-18 meetings – including the last six – while averaging nearly 18 points per game, as per Basketball-Reference.com. But Gasol has been playing exceptionally with the Bulls and adds a new dimension to a team that has struggled to score in recent years.

Aside from Gasol, Chicago has thrived this season with the ascendance of Jimmy Butler, who hecas arguably been their best player this year. The team relies less on former MVP Derrick Rose and Butler has risen to become a star in his own right. Butler’s 20.5 PPG leads the team and how Wade matches up with fellow Marquette University alum is a key to winning this game for Miami.

The Heat are no longer the team that has had so many postseason battles with Chicago but the tension will likely still be felt, giving the game a surprising playoff-like feel to it. With Deng’s return and the key matchups that Bosh and Wade will face, there’s a lot of drama to this midseason contest.

Having Whiteside in the middle to help balance Miami’s scoring will be an added bonus for Heat fans.

Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST from Chicago and the game will be broadcast on ABC.

Remember to check back with All U Can Heat for post-game grades, a full recap and much more.

More from All U Can Heat