The Heat and Bulls met again Thursday night, and like every other game these two play, it went down to the wire, with Chicago topping MIami on a last-second shot. It gave us some of the best basketball we'll see all season. It's one game, but because we can't help but read too much into everything, and because the Bulls-Heat felt like a playoff game, let's look back.
The first takeaway from Thursday night is very important.
Dear LeBron: You are LeBron James. If you embraced the receding hair line, you could make it your trademark. You know how everybody loves Anthony Davis for his unibrow? That would be you and your receding hairline. You could make it look cool, make it your own.
Double headbands, on the other hand, will never ever be cool.
How is Tom Thibodeau not the Coach of the Year? Has there been a better coaching job in the NBA this year? It's not just that Chicago's held water with the reigning MVP out for most of the year; they've been dominant. They have the best record in the league, they've beaten the best teams in basketball without Rose, and the deepest bench in the league has somehow gotten deeper as they go. Thibs has the voice of a retired cop at an A.A. meeting, he looks like a cranky real estate agent dropped onto an NBA bench, and goddamnit, that's the best coach in basketball.
Dwyane Wade Lives! We're nearing Mariano Rivera territory with Wade. Which is to say we're about nine months out from five or six years of journalists wondering whether Wade is too old. He's looked strangely human lately, and if you were betting on him to then catch fire and lead a Heat comeback in the fourth quarter, well ... you have more faith than me. But he did, and he almost single-handedly stole the game from Chicago. So, even in a loss, it's got to be reassuring for Miami that Dwyane Wade can still be DWYANE WADE against one of the best defenses in basketball in crunch time.
On the other hand...
It's Always All About LeBron. The thing with Miami is, they're better when it's LeBron playing out of his mind and carrying them late in games. With Wade leading the way, they're a great team. With LeBron leading the way, they are the unstoppable juggernaut that bumrushed Boston and Chicago in last year's playoffs and looked two levels above anyone else in basketball. Then the Finals happened, and ... you know. But still. If Miami wins a title this year, or even beats Chicago, it's going to take LeBron hitting the next level, not just Wade. Thursday he had four points in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, including (of course) a missed free throw in crunch time that will give Skip Bayless something to scream about for the next 72 hours.
But for the record, 'Bron had plenty of these suspect finishes in last year's regular season and then he became superhuman against the Bulls and Celtics. And he's still far and away the best player on earth, so reading into Thursday is a waste of time. We have no idea what to expect with LeBron; all we know is that with Miami, it's still all about LeBron.
ALL HAIL C.J. WATSON. C.J. Watson is not the guy you want taking contested jumpers with the game on the line, but then ...
Wade played great defense in closing out, then got a hand in his face right as the jumper went up, but none of it mattered. Watson's been great for Chicago all year, but that was above and beyond. A good reminder that at its best, basketball makes absolutely no sense.
Bench Warmers. Per ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, after the third quarter Miami didn't get a single point from anyone outside Bosh, Wade, or LeBron. It's not just that they got no help from their impotent bench, but everyone outside of the Big Three falls into the impotent category.
Meanwhile, the Bulls bench was as murderous as ever. Taj Gibson harassed the Heat on both ends, we've already mentioned C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer gave them defense, and Kyle Korver
gave them defense did what Kyle Korver does -- threes on threes on threes. Everyone always talks about the Bulls bench as an advantage come playoff time, but we saw last year how easily that can be mitigated. When things get tight in the playoffs, what matters is raw talent among the best players. Derrick Rose couldn't score against LeBron in the fourth quarters last year, so Miami won.
But the way Chicago's bench just owned the Heat all night long kinda makes you wonder about the whole "raw talent" thing. Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, C.J. Watson ... wouldn't all those guys be starters on Miami? Not every box score will be as one-sided as Thursday, but if Miami has an advantage at the top, it'll be mitigated against Chicago if their role players just don't show up AT ALL. Thursday wasn't exactly encouraging on that front.
But hey, Shane Battier! Duke sucks.
So, what about Derrick Rose? He's been resting on-and-off for three months now. If he's not healthy now (and he totally wasn't last night), there's a decent chance he won't be healthy all year. In seven games with Miami or even Boston, they may not have enough to win without Rose. But The Derrick Rose Robot will play in the playoffs no matter what, so that's a moot point. The question is, if Poohdini's gonna play hurt, monopolize the offense, and struggle the way he did Thursday, wouldn't the Bulls (maybe) (possibly) be better off without him? D-Rose is one of the five best players in the NBA, but he's not the sort of player who just blend in if he's not feeling it. Chicago was outscored by 27 with Rose on the court Thursday; they beat Miami 64-36 with Rose on the bench.
Here's to hoping he gets healthier and that paragraph becomes irrelevant.
We're almost there. Last night was a war on par with the best games we've seen all year, and it's just prelude to what happens if these teams see each other in six weeks. They don't like each other, and they've known since September that they'll probably be going through each other on the way to the NBA Finals. More importantly, though, the end of that Heat-Bulls game took me back.
Remember when we got games like this every single night for two months? Where everybody wakes up the next morning and YouTubes the game-winners, then by the afternoon they're arguing about the game that night? Where everyone's yelling about LeBron?
The playoffs are coming, and it's going to be faaaaaaaaaaantastic.
Double headbands for everyone!
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