The Miami Heat will face the Chicago Bulls in Friday’s final play-in game to determine the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
After a disappointing loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, the Heat will get one last chance to win and advance. If they lose, their season will be over. There’s a lot on the line. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Friday night’s tip (7 p.m. at Kaseya Center, TNT).
How have the Heat fared against the Raptors/Bulls this season?
The Heat are 0-3 against the Bulls this season, losing all three games by a combined 32 points. Miami’s biggest issue was DeMar DeRozan, who scored 37, 24 and 24 points in the three meetings on efficient shooting. When they played in March, Jimmy Butler and Caleb Martin spent most of the time attempting to guard DeRozan. The Heat have also historically had problems with center Nikola Vucevic’s size and physicality on the glass.
What is the key matchup?
DeRozan versus whoever is guarding him. My guess is that it’ll be Butler to start the game, with Martin taking shifts. DeRozan is among the best fourth-quarter scorers in the league and, if this game is close, Butler or another Heat player will have to step up and score with him. How Adebayo matches up with Vucevic, particularly in the paint and on the boards, will also be key.
How do the Heat win?
At the top of the list is making shots. The Heat’s season-long shooting issues came to a head against the Hawks, in which they shot 42.9% overall, including 11 of 34 on 3s and missing nine of 15 shots in the restricted area. While role players such as Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin need to step up and make open 3s, it’s on Adebayo and Butler to set the tone and convert on the shots they normally make. But because the Bulls rank fifth in defensive rating, scoring could be even more of an uphill battle than it was against the Hawks (22nd in DRTG).
Beyond the obvious scoring issue, the Heat’s defense needs to tighten up against Chicago’s top scorers Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, who combined for 20 points in the fourth quarter of their comeback win in Toronto.
Miami has the 22nd-ranked defense since the All-Star break, giving up 117.1 points every 100 possessions. It was even worse against the Hawks, who scored at a rate of 118.4 points per every 100. Better closeouts, crisper rotations and battling on the glass for defensive rebounds against another bigger team will be paramount.
What’s at stake?
If the Heat win, they’ll advance to the playoffs as the eighth seed and earn a series against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. Game 1 would be played Sunday, at 5:30 ET, in Milwaukee. A loss would bring an end to Miami’s frustrating season, send their draft pick into the lottery and begin an offseason full of tough questions.