Well, ladies and gentlemen, the day is finally here. The day we have all been waiting for. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat take on Joakim Noah, Luol Deng,
Derrick Rose Kirk Hinrich — *record scratch*
Look, this is hardly the marquee matchup it would be if Derrick Rose were healthy. Granted, we saw the Bulls fare well against the Heat last year without him, winning both home matchups with the team from South Beach behind clutch shots from John Lucas III and CJ Watson, respectively. But that was at home, first of all, and second it was with the bench mob still fully armed and operational.
What's really unfortunate about this is that the Bulls — with Rose — match up really, really well with the Heat in their new small ball configuration. Chicago has the size to give them problems inside, and with Noah and Taj Gibson on the floor, they aren't even compromised defensively. Noah and Gibson are two of the best big men in the league at switching on to perimeter players and staying with them. A Rose/Jimmy Butler/Deng/Gibson/Noah lineup takes advantage of the Heat's main weaknesses — defending point guards and rebounding — without exposing themselves on the other end.
Alas, Kirk Hinrich is here in his stead. Just one more thing for Kirk to ruin.
Anyway, the Bulls will need a big night inside from Noah, Gibson and Carlos Boozer to hold their own. Gibson and Boozer are coming off their best game of the season, when they basically beat the Orlando Magic by themselves. Boozer scored a season-high 31 points to go with 11 rebounds, while Gibson had a season-high 21 and 11 rebounds of his own. Of course, that was the Magic and this is the Heat, so it's easy to think that Boozer will pull another one of his disappearing acts against good teams. It's also unlikely that Boozer will help in any way on defense, and he could easily get murdered on threes from Shane Battier and/or Ray Allen. Hopefully, Tom Thibodeau opts for a heavy dose of Taj tonight.
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah v. Chris Bosh
Noah and Bosh have gone at it hard since Bosh migrated to South Beach, most memorably in the Heat's first visit to Chicago in February 2011, when Bosh went 1/18 from the field in a Heat loss. That game aside, Bosh has generally come out on top, but Noah is playing better than he ever has and has an increased role in the offense. Without Noah's influence, the offense ground to a halt down the stretch against the Magic, and his high post passing opens a lot of options for the offensively-challenged Bulls. On the other end, neutralizing Bosh makes it easier to deal with LeBron and/or Wade potentially going off, as is their wont.
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