In two ways Sunday’s Heat victory over the Bulls summed up this young season.
First, the Bulls and the Heat are the two best teams in the East. Clear and away. Philadelphia, Atlanta and even Indiana are good, but these two teams are on another level and are destined for an Eastern Conference finals rematch. Which promises to be very entertaining.
Second, it was sloppy when it mattered. Even the referees were blowing plays at the end. Just like so much of this season.
Beyond that, this game was a measuring stick of where the teams are right now, and as we expected they are close. Miami gets the win 97-93, they got a big 35 points on 23 shots from LeBron James and their bench was good. Chicago got 34 points from Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton caused the Heat trouble and scrapped back from double-digit deficits twice. All without Luol Deng.
Don’t try to project this game to the end of the season, because both will be different squads by then. The only thing you can project is that series is going to be very entertaining, very fun.
The other talking point out of this game is how ugly the ending was.
On two consecutive possessions late the Heat tried to isolate LeBron James, but he went Kobe Bryant style dribbling on the perimeter to create space then shooting a long jumper that was contested. One of those came with less than a minute to go and the Bulls, down 4 at the time, ran off the miss and Rose was able to draw the blocking foul and hit the shot to make it an and-one. Suddenly it was a one point game with 49 seconds left.
So the Heat run the clock down but it ends with another LeBron James contested miss, and once again Rose is off and running. Rose pushed it a lot at the end of the game to counter having LeBron on him when the Heat set their defense — he had to give up the ball a lot in standard sets the last few minutes, but in transition he was picked up by others who were backpedaling.
This time the pushing of the ball led to a Udonis Haslem foul and Rose going to the free throw line.
And he missed both. Down one the Bulls had to foul, and LeBron had the ball so they fouled him.
And he missed both.
Then the referees inadvertently blew the whistle on a live ball, so they had to stop play and have a mid-court jump ball. Which LeBron won and the Bulls fouled Mario Chalmers, who proceeded to only make one of two giving the Bulls one last chance.
Rose drove into the lane, the refs (wisely) let contact with Haslem go, and Rose went up with a last-second 10-foot floater to tie, and missed it. Game over (save for a couple Chris Bosh free throws).
Some people are going to jump on LeBron and/or Rose for their end of game play, but to me it just looked like the rest of the season.
LeBron James tweaked his shoulder in the first quarter and iced it during the game, but he returned and didn’t show any signs that this will linger. He was back to himself, and back in the post backing down Ronnie Brewer late in the game.
This game is a playoff preview and it lived up to the hype. And it lived up to the highlights. Rose slashed and showed off his body control, which is as good as the league has ever seen. The Heat were off and running early and that led to some fantastic highlights.
It means nothing about these teams in the playoffs, other than to whet our appetite.
Can we just start the Eastern Conference finals tomorrow?