With the Chicago Bulls improbable win against the Raptors in the first Play-In Tournament game on Wednesday, they now head to Miami to face the Heat in another single-elimination contest. If they win, they’ll become the first team to advance from the 10th seed to the playoffs, where they will face the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. If they lose, their season is over and they’ll enter the draft lottery.
The Heat are worse than their record indicates. Teams with their -0.1 point differential typically win 41 games over the course of a season, so the Heat have overachieved by three wins. That will happen when you lead the league in clutch wins.
The Heat are a strong team to be sure, but they’re not impenetrable. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo are two-way stars. Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry have huge impacts on winning and Erik Spoelstra can win a game on his own.
But the Bulls should be able to win this game and move on. And based on their 3-0 season series sweep, they should feel confident in doing so.
Season Series Context
Game 1: The Bulls went to Miami for the season-opener. Zach LaVine was a late scratch with knee management, causing concern about his season outlook.
DeRozan scored 37 and the Bulls won 116-108
Game 2: Coming off a low-point contender loss to Minnesota in which the Bulls gave up 150 points and had a locker room blow up and falling to an 11-18 record, the Bulls regrouped and beat the Heat in Miami 113-103.
With Butler out for the Heat, DeRozan (24 points), Nikola Vucevic (29 points, 12 rebounds) and LaVine (21 points) all scored 20 or more.
This win kicked off an 8-3 stretch in late December, early January.
Game 3: Coming off a double-overtime win against Minnesota the night before, the Bulls handled Miami 113-99. Butler, LaVine, DeRozan, Vucevic. Only Kyle Lowry was out for the Heat.
This was, by all intents and purposes, the Pat Bev game. He hit four threes to break open the game in the second quarter and delivered the quote of the season to reporters after the game.
Season Stats: 44-38 Record, 7th in Eastern Conference
Offense: 113.3 (25th)
Defense: 113.4 (7th)
Point Differential: -0.1 (20th)
Last two weeks: 4-3 record
Offense: 117.5 (11th)
Defense: 113.7 (10th)
Point Differential: 3.9 (9th)
Attacking the versatile Heat defense
Like the Bulls, the Heat are an elite defense because of the way they generate turnovers (4th) and defensive rebounds (4th) while preventing opponents from getting to the free throw line (7th). Unlike the Bulls, they are built around the best center in the league when it comes to switching one-through-five, Bam Adebayo. The Heat also run zone more than any team in the league by a significant margin. Because of this versatility, they are able to keep everything in front of them without having to scramble in rotation.
As a result, they allow the fourth-fewest percentage of shots at the rim, but allow the highest volume of corner three-point attempts and second highest volume of total three-point attempts.
This is going to be a difficult defense to dissect. As we know, the Bulls don’t take many threes, but in each of the three games they played against Miami, they got hot, going 13-of-36 in the first matchup, 13-of-31 in the second matchup, 17-of-34 in the third, winning the three-point makes battle in two of the three contests. If the Bulls shoot it well, the lackluster Heat offense is going to struggle to keep up. Their offensive ceiling is not high.
Keys to containing Miami’s offense
Offensively the Heat do three things well: Get to the free throw line at a high rate (8th), avoid turnovers (13th) and taking a lot of threes (ninth), despite not making them at a high clip (27th).
This is a matchup tailor made for the Bulls defense. The Bulls don’t foul (6th), they turn teams over (6th) and are fine giving up threes because they contest hard and don’t let teams shoot a high percentage (13th).
If the Bulls can keep old friend Butler off the free throw line, Miami is going to struggle. They are 16-8 when Butler gets to the free throw line 10 or more times and 19-21 when he gets fewer than 10 trips to the line.
Who won the Jimmy Butler trade?
Regardless of the outcome, there is going to be revisionist history about the winner of the Jimmy Butler trade, and I will have none of it. Both teams lost the Jimmy Butler trade.
The Timberwolves got a two-way star wing in his prime, who helped the team make their first Playoff run in 14 years. Then he forced his way out of town.
Regardless of how freaking amazing LaVine has become and how well Lauri Markkanen has developed (for a different team), the Bulls should have gotten more for their star. They got some intriguing young players in Dunn and LaVine and moved up nine spots in the draft. No future draft picks, no pick swaps.
If that trade was made today, given the going rate for NBA stars in their prime, it would be an albatross. It was then too.
The Bulls were 41-41 the year they traded Butler. They’re 40-42 this year. It will be fun to face Butler in a Play-In scenario, but the trade was lost by both teams long ago.
For now, let’s forget about that and focus on the game in front of us.