Bulls get next crack at stopping Heat’s winning streak
Remember when the Heat and Bulls were considered equal NBA championship contenders? That was so 2011, maybe pre-May 2012.
Now, thanks to otherworldly play by LeBron James and Derrick Rose's torn ACL last April 28, the gap between the teams is about as wide as the disparity in the winning streaks they will carry into Wednesday night's high-profile, nationally televised game at the United Center.
Heat 27, Bulls 2.
To be fair, the gulf between the Heat and most all teams – and certainly all of the Eastern Conference variety – is substantial. Such is the nature of a team chasing history versus one that doesn't even know which players will be available on a game-to-game basis.
Obviously, the Bulls would be more substantially equipped to go up 2-1 in the season series if Rose, Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton were healthy. Of those four, Belinelli and Noah are the only ones considered day-to-day.
The Heat's remarkable run is just six games shy of the Lakers' NBA-record, 33-game winning streak, set during the 1971-72 season. With their 108-94 victory over the Magic on Monday, the Heat surpassed the 1916 New York Giants baseball team for the second-longest winning streak in the history of major professional sports leagues.
Nevertheless, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau needed just one syllable when asked if Wednesday's matchup is any different because of the gravity of history.
"No," he said.
Thibodeau has been asked about the Heat's run consistently over the past couple of weeks, offering short, respectful answers. Now that the game is near, he expanded a bit.
"It's pretty incredible what they're doing," he said. "Everyone's confidence goes way up. But they're not winning because their confidence is up. They're winning because they're playing well.
"Nothing has changed. That organization has always stood for hard-playing, tough defense, share the ball, play to win. They've maintained a very high standard for a long time."
Everybody but Rose played when the Bulls prevailed 96-89 in Miami on Jan. 4. The Bulls enjoyed a whopping 48-28 rebounding edge and grabbed 19 offensive boards.
The Heat earned their revenge – and posted win No. 9 in the current streak – with an 86-67 pasting at the United Center on Feb. 21. James, the runaway favorite for most valuable player, tallied 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
"You definitely want to beat Miami," said Jimmy Butler, who will start if Belinelli can't go. "They have one of the best records in the league, great players. More than anything, we want to protect our home floor and win as many games as possible and keep pushing and get that momentum going into the playoffs."
And really, that's the Bulls' main focus, not the streak. The Thibodeau brainwash has been in effect long enough that players know not to get wrapped up in extracurricular noise and focus on execution.
"If they were coming in and they don't have the record, it would still be a big game," Luol Deng said. "No one wants to lose. We're going to approach it as a game we want to win. Obviously, it's going to be in the back of our mind that they have a streak and in the back of their mind too. But the bottom line is just trying to get a win."
Heat at Bulls
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
TV/Radio: CSN, ESPN/1000 AM
On the line: Heat have won 27 games in a row. The NBA record is 33, set by the Lakers during the 1971-72 season.