Chicago Bulls: Is first-round matchup vs Miami Heat best-case scenario?

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

The top of Eastern Conference standings are as close as ever with the first round fate of the Chicago Bulls set to be determined in the final stretch of the season.

The Chicago Bulls are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, and would be playing the Philadelphia 76ers if the playoffs began today. While the Bulls may have successfully avoided the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, they’re still in hot water in regard to the postseason.

The top of the Eastern Conference feature teams that Chicago has struggled with all year, including those Sixers. The Bulls don’t match up well with them or the Milwaukee Bucks. The Boston Celtics’ recent surge of inspired basketball, combined with their young group’s playoff experience, also makes them a team Chicago doesn’t want to see early.

That leaves the Miami Heat as the lesser of four evils.

The Chicago Bulls need to pray that the Miami Heat drop to fourth

The Heat, currently the No. 1 seed, are 2.5 games ahead of the Sixers, two games up on the Celtics, only a half-game on top of the Bucks. The final week or so of the season could shake up these rankings and the Bulls need to pull for Miami to have a short fall from grace.

The Heat have an unexciting dynamic group that can get buckets … but also go ice cold. Their best players — Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — thrive when taking low-percentage shots, while their primary role players’ output is either extremely high or dramatically low.

In the 2020 NBA Bubble, the role guys for the Heat were on fire, as was every shooter in the bubble. Tyler Herro was practically handed Rookie of the Year, while Duncan Robinson was compared to Klay Thompson. Butler was crowned a superstar and Adebayo became one of the brightest young studs in the game as the Heat made a NBA Finals appearance against the eventual-champion Lakers.

The next year wasn’t that hot, though. The shooters couldn’t hit at the same clip. Butler’s contested mid-range shots were clanking, and Adebayo’s lack of size on the interior was glaring. This year has been a mix of the last two seasons. There are times when Butler ad Adebayo look like a top-five duo in the league and the shooters become the Splash Brothers. Then there are times the team is fighting amongst each other in huddles while getting blown by the cosplay Santa Cruz Warriors.

The range for Miami is vast. There is never a guarantee which Heat team is showing up, which is the exact reason why the Bulls should want Miami in a series over the aforementioned matchup nightmares that would feature Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown and Al Horford.

Momentum is key to winning playoff series when teams are evenly matched. One moody Miami game can give Chicago the momentum to take control in a seven-game tilt.

Granted, Chicago will have to crack down on their defensive lapses and figure out how to close games stronger consistently. But in terms of having the most favorable shot possible, the Heat are their best bet in the first round.

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