(Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon)
The Miami HEAT look to continue their winning ways when they take on the Chicago Bulls tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena. The HEAT are the top seed in the East with a record of 22-8. The Bulls are 17-13 and currently 5th in the East. Tip off is set for 8 PM; coverage on Sun Sports kicks off at 7:30 PM.1. Is Tom Thibodeau the best defensive coach in the league?
Couper Moorhead: There isn’t much question about it right now, at least in terms of getting the same defense out of his team on a night-to-night basis. His style is the type that makes you concerned about him wearing thin on his players after a while, but Chicago has shown no signs of that yet and short of a lively Celtics defense (only when Kevin Garnett is on the floor) there is no team that would test Miami’s spacing more in the playoffs.
Danny Martinez: There isn’t any proof to the contrary at this point. The Bulls finished second to the Celtics the last two seasons in defensive efficiency and are fifth this season despite significant roster turnover and injuries. Who designed those Celtics defenses? Thibodeau. He’s a defensive mastermind who’s credentials speak for themselves.2. Is Miami’s offense or defense more important in this game?
Couper: Chicago leads the league in mid-range jumpers and that likely isn’t going to change much regardless of how on-point the HEAT defense is, so it’s the offense. This is as true a test as Miami’s 2012-13 lineups have had this season, and it should give Erik Spoelstra plenty of practice fodder, regardless of result.
Danny: The Bulls offense has struggled all season to score efficiently. Unless something out of the ordinary occurs, that shouldn’t change against the HEAT. The offense is more important tonight. In the HEAT’s recent losses, they struggled to score for long stretches at a time. The Bulls defense won’t make things easy on the HEAT. It will be a good test to see whether the HEAT can continue to generate high quality shots that have been their staple so far this season.3. Why is this Joakim Noah’s finest season?
Couper: Because his defense is better than ever. He’s shooting more than ever and making less than half his shots, but there have been shades of Kevin Garnett is his defense this year that we haven’t quite seen before. He’s also become more of a focal part of the offense with Rose out, and an assist-percentage of almost 20 percent is incredibly impressive for a big man. This is the type of center you can build around in today’s NBA.
Danny: I’m not so sure that it is. His defense has been exceptional and it is a big, big reason why the Bulls are winning games, but this campaign probably doesn’t match last season’s. While Noah’s assist numbers are up in Rose’s absence, his turnovers are way up, his efficiency is down and his rebounding has slipped. Don’t get me wrong; Noah is still playing at an all-star level. I just think that he’s he had a better season a year ago.4. Does this game matter much to you, considering the continued absence of Derrick Rose?
Couper: Actually, it does, but only as much as a regular season game will ever matter to me. Rose will no doubt change this team’s identity and if he is even 75 percent of his former self until summer, they can win multiple playoff series behind the defense. For now, I just want to see if Miami can generate its usual spacing and open looks against an elite defense – the same defense that will be there regardless of Rose’s presence. I don’t particularly care who wins, from the Miami perspective, only that – being boring old me – they can get to their process, and forgive the Spoism, their identity.
Danny: There haven’t been many dull HEAT-Bulls games the last two seasons, so I’m looking forward to the matchup. The Bulls will have a say in the Eastern Conference playoffs when Rose gets healthy, so it will be nice to get a read on how the HEAT matchup with them now. The game won’t mean much once April and May roll around, but it’s always nice to have a progress report like this a third of the way into the season.