Bulls vs Heat: Who Will Come Out On Top?

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bulls vs Heat: Who Will Come Out On Top?


Let’s face it, no one was tipping the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat to be first and second in the NBA Eastern Conference when the season began. Yes, Miami is a team on the up and it’s not a complete surprise that they have been able to build on the last two years’ successes. But Chicago?

The Bulls were down in 11th slot last season and even if you were expecting some improvement, what we’ve seen this season has been remarkable. You could have taken good odds against them even making the playoffs with most sportsbooks back in September, but they’ve been the success story of the East so far, even surpassing the surprising return of the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

At the end of this month, we get to see what could prove to be a rehearsal for a play-off series when the Bulls travel to Miami to take on the Heat, the surprise NBA Finals contender from 2020, who once again made the playoffs last year. 

The Bulls are back

There have been false dawns over the years since the all-time great Bulls line-up of the 1990s was broken up, but this time things feel very different. 

The resurgence can be traced back to April 2020. The Bulls were heading for another mediocre season and ended up 11th in the conference. However, before the end of that season, they made a significant change, bringing in Arturas Karnisovas, the man who was largely responsible for building the Denver Nuggets into legitimate title contenders. 

Over the next 18 months, the Bulls set about rebuilding a roster that lacked cohesion. Out went Jim Boylen in favor of Billy Donovan, a coach with a resume that includes repeat NCAA title wins and a commendable record in keeping Oklahoma City competitive after Kevin Durant’s departure. 

The new coach was given new weapons. Nikola Vucevic, one of the best bigs in the league, arrived last year. He has since been joined by Lonzo Ball, promising rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu and the immensely experienced DeMar DeRozan. The former All-Star and Toronto Raptors hero has gelled well with Zach LaVine and has been performing at MVP-level or near enough so far. 

The results have been spectacular. Defensively, the Bulls are solid if unspectacular. But in a league where scoring rules, they have been remarkably consistent, leading the way in Field Goal Percentage and Three-Point Percentage. 

Even with the recent injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, they have continued to ball at a high level, though they will likely need to be at full strength to match the conference big guns in the playoffs. Few teams will relish meeting them in the postseason, that’s for sure. 

Re-heated Miami 

After the spectacular success of 2020, going out in the first round last year was not what Miami fans were hoping for, even if that defeat came against the eventual champions Milwaukee Bucks. This time around, results have been a lot stronger, putting the Heat in a very strong position for the post-season. 

What is more remarkable than their return to form is the way that they have had to do it. Going into the season, the concern was that Miami would be over-reliant on Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo, and that if one or more of that trio went down with an injury, the roster lacked depth. 

Well, some of those fears have been realized. Butler and Lowry have missed 42 games between them, and the big three have only been available together for 14 games so far. But predictions that the Heat would struggle have proven wildly inaccurate. 

A stellar performance from Tyler Herro has helped, but much of the credit should go to head coach Erik Spoelstra, who has managed to steer Miami to the top of the Eastern Conference despite having to field more undrafted players than any other team in the NBA. 

Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Omer Yurtseven and Caleb Martin are among the variety of fringe players who have stepped up and helped to propel the Heat forward, while their big players have been resting or convalescing. 

In fact, at the end of January, Miami’s record without Adebayo in the line-up read 14-8 and when both Adebayo and Butler have been absent, it was 11-4. That level of squad depth has been the difference for the Heat so far this season and it sends a clear message to the rest of the NBA. If the Heat can be this good with their best players missing, how good will they be at full strength?

Anticipated clash

The rise of the Bulls and the resurgence of the Heat have made the Eastern Conference a far more interesting competition. When they meet for the third time this season on February 28th – it promises to be a fascinating battle, and a taste of even bigger clashes to come. 

The Heat have won both of their games so far. With home advantage, they will once again be favorites here, particularly if all three of their big stars are back. However, Chicago will be keen to send a message of their own to the team that they may yet meet in a Conference Final or Semi-Final. 

With the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets both boosted by the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade, the Bucks getting into form, and the Celtics still in contention, the Eastern Conference is heating up as we head into the spring. 

You may also like...