Since Feb. 1, the Miami Heat have lost three games. During that span, the Heat went on a 27-game winning streak, the second-longest streak in NBA history. The team to end that impressive run? The Chicago Bulls, Miami's second-round playoff opponent.
The Heat and Bulls will open their Eastern Conference Semifinals series on Monday, and while Miami is the heavy favorite, Chicago has shown the ability to beat the NBA's best team. In addition to the 101-97 victory at the United Center on March 27 that ended the streak, the Bulls also snagged a rare win in Miami this year, a 96-87 win on Jan. 4. The Heat won the other two matchups by double-digits.
What made the Bulls' streak-busting win even more impressive was the fact that they were without Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli, Richard Hamilton and of course Derrick Rose due to injury. The Rose situation has loomed over the Bulls all season, and while he has left the door open for a possible return against the Heat, the general consensus is that he will sit out the season.
Besides Rose, the Bulls continue to deal with a host of other injury problems as well. Luol Deng will miss at least Game 1 as he recovers from complications following a spinal tap procedure, a key loss when it comes to defending LeBron James. The MVP has had plenty of success against Deng this season, averaging 28.0 points on 63.8 percent shooting in the four games, however, the Bulls' All-Star always makes James work hard for his points. Deng's offense was also key in the streak-busting victory, scoring 28 points and hitting numerous clutch shots.
Kirk Hinrich's health is also in question, as he has been battling a calf bruise. Hinrich has really struggled with his shooting against Miami this season, but he historically has given Dwyane Wade some problems on the other end. That has not been as much the case this year, as Wade is averaging 19.8 points on 56.9 percent shooting against the Bulls. Wade should return to the lineup after missing Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks with a knee bruise.
The way the Bulls have beat the Heat this year is with physical defense and rebounding. In the streak-busting win, Chicago took several hard fouls, which James took exception to afterward. And despite Noah sitting out, the Bulls grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and won the overall battle 43-to-31. In the first victory, the Bulls had 19 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Heat by 20. In Miami's two wins, they were outrebounded by just three and one, respectively.
The Heat will look for Chris Bosh to be big on the boards, something he was not in the two losses to the Bulls, grabbing only nine rebounds. Carlos Boozer consistently outplayed Bosh, averaging 19.0 points and 15.0 rebounds in the four games.
The Bulls' physical play does not come without some issues, as the Heat made a killing at the line during the season series. Miami took 109 free throws over the course of the four games, including 41 in the last meeting of the regular season on April 14. The Bulls took just 84 free throws.
The Bulls are a proud group that will not go down without a fight. This was visible in the regular season, and Chicago should remain competitive thanks to how hard they play. But in the end, the talent gap will almost certainly be too much to overcome.