For the first time since the playoffs last year, the Chicago Bulls come into Miami to take on the Heat Sunday afternoon (3:30 ET on ABC). A battle of the two best teams in the East, two of the league’s true contenders, it’s a fun early season showdown and chance to measure each other right now.
Here are five things to watch… well, really four things to watch and a question.
1. Tempo. With Dwyane Wade back in the lineup, the Heat want to use their pressure defense to force mistakes, create turnovers then get out in transition fast. Which is smart because with Wade and LeBron James they have two of the best finishers in the world on their team. Chicago wants to grind it out more in the half court to rely on their defense to win them games. Well, their defense and Derrick Rose. If the game is up-and-down and the Heat get a lot of easy buckets in transition they will win.
2. Can Derrick Rose be efficient? Derrick Rose was the MVP with reason last year, he shouldered most of the Bulls offensive load and shot a respectable 44.5 percent (an eFG% of 48.5 percent, which counts his threes) on his way to 25 points a game. Then he ran into the Heat, and while he scored 23.4 points per game he shot just 35 percent (39.6 percent eFG%) as defenders including LeBron made it tougher on him. With Rip Hamilton in the lineup will he find more space and be able to shoot a higher percentage?
3. How do the offseason additions change the dynamic? The Bulls needed another perimeter scoring option, they went out and got one of the hardest workers off the ball and best midrange shooters in the game in Richard Hamilton this summer. How do the Heat adjust and account for that? The Heat added Shane Battier and drafted Norris Cole, the later of whom is playing well at the point and provides depth. Combine that with Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being healthy and the Heat are a much deeper team now, can the Bulls bench match them?
4. Can Ronnie Brewer contain LeBron James? LeBron has given up a lot of his threes and replaced them with touches in the post this year. Combine that with some more good looks in transition and he is putting up monster numbers this season. MVP numbers. The primary job of slowing him and making him work for his points will fall to Brewer (and Luol Deng if he is back). Brewer is a quality defender, but containing LeBron is a team effort. However, if Brewer is beaten consistently it’s going to be rough for the Bulls.
5. Does it really matter who wins? No. This is a measuring stick of where the teams are now, not where they will be in late May when everyone expects them to meet again in the Eastern Conference Finals. (And by the end of the season we expect them to be 1-2 in the East, as they are Sunday morning. Upstarts like Atlanta and Philly will battle for third and below.) But the Bulls can use a win — it can build some confidence in a Bulls team that was easily dispatched in five games when they met last playoffs.