When the Chicago Bulls last faced the Miami Heat, expectations were high as Derrick Rose and company had rallied to finish with the NBA's best record and the East's No. 1 seed going into the playoffs. They matched up with Miami in the Eastern finals, and the winner would become the favorite to win the NBA Championship.
But the Heat smoked the Bulls 4-1, winning both games in South Beach and two of three in Chicago. In the series, Rose, the regular season MVP, got his numbers, averaging 23 points and six assists per game. But Miami held him to an effective field goal percentage of just .379, and Rose averaged just under four turnovers per game as the Heat defense controlled the games.
The Bulls didn't seek major upgrades in the abbreviated offseason, adding Rip Hamilton and otherwise keeping the roster static. Miami drafted Norris Cole to help out at the point and signed Shane Battier to provide more defense and deep shooting. Those additions and a healthy Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem have helped Miami survive the injury to Dwayne Wade -- who is now back on the court -- but the Heat still haven't been able to keep pace with Chicago in the East.
Going into Sunday's game, Chicago sits atop the conference at 17-4, two games ahead of the 14-5 Heat. Miami is No. 2 in the conference, just a half-game ahead of surprising Philadelphia and Atlanta. While Miami didn't need home-court advantage against the Bulls in the playoffs last season, they'd certainly prefer it.
Miami and Chicago will meet three more times in the regular season, with the Bulls hosting on March 14 and April 12 and returning to South Beach on April 19. All games will be broadcast on national TV.