Heat and Bulls give us a preview that means everything and nothing at once

By Matt Moore | NBA writer
The Heat swarmed an undermanned Bulls team Thursday night. (Getty Images)


Bulls-Heat, Vol. 2012, Chapter Four was kind of a Rorschach test. You see what you want to see.

Another example of the surging Miami Heat behind the efforts of the presumptive MVP in LeBron James, taking down a top team in the East (at home) and moving closer to homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs? You could see that.

Another good effort by Chicago to keep the game close without their MVP, the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, out with a foot injury, in which they at times pushed the Heat around and just didn't knock down makeable shots? You could see that.

A ho-hum late season game between two ugly offensive teams both missing stars (Chris Bosh also missed the game) in which neither side truly impressed? Sure.

A defensive battle between two versatile teams featuring brutal hits, some of them illegal, as the true grind of the playoffs takes center stage? Yeah, you can go with that.

It can be whatever you want it to be. Meaningful. Meaningless. Irrelevant. Crucial. The Bulls gave great effort and ran out of offensive weaponry when the Heat turned up the pressure. The Heat couldn't run the Bulls out in their own building with Chicago missing Rose. The only conclusion you can reach is that this matchup that will in all likelihood happen in the Eastern Conference Finals is going to be long, grueling, and fierce.

The Heat demolished the Bulls in five games last year in the conference finals, after dropping the first game in Chicago. That's been the common response from the Heat contingent when it came to the Heat's struggles with Chicago this year. But the results stick out. The Heat took out the Bulls when they were at full-strength, and finish the season with a 2-2 tie in the season series. They won the first matchup, they won the last matchup.

But the Bulls get a pass with Rose missing. For now. The questions about his health are a bigger concern that have to be assuaged through their postseason play. For now it was a game they could win huge, but not really lose. On the other hand, it gives more momentum for the Heat and props open the door to Miami stealing homecourt advantage from Chicago.

LeBron James didn't put an emphatic stamp on his MVP candidacy, but perhaps in a slow-paced, brutally inefficient game overall, dropping 27 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists is enough. James hit another gear in the second half of this one, and despite some fourth quarter cramping issues, was making the kinds of plays that make him a singularly defined player. It wasn't overwhelming, but it may have been good enough. Kind of an inverse of James' career, in many ways.

So we'll wait, and add the sight adjustments we saw to our mental list about this matchup. How Erik Spoelstra began having strongside bigs cutting out to anticipate Kyle Korver running baseline off the backscreen. How the Bulls employed Taj Gibson on the switch to cover LeBron James in isolation. The adjustments made against Omer Asik, against Mike Miller, the impact of Shane Battier.

This story's not finished. We've only set the table. Bad blood, the meat of matchups, and the sizzle to go with the stakes. As for what will happen? You see what you want to see.
 
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