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Is Taj Gibson and the deep Chicago Bulls bench the key to beating the Heat?
In another installment of the Heat Index's 3-on-3 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat host the Bulls (47-15).
1. Fact or Fiction: You'd say Miami's odds at the 1-seed are better than 10%.
Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. I don't think the Heat winning tonight is a given. And even then, the cards are strongly stacked against them going forward. For the Heat to have a real chance, the Bulls would pretty much have to lose out the rest of the way. Alas, the Cavaliers remain on their schedule. There's a better chance that Tom Thibodeau is on the next cover of GQ than the Bulls losing to the Cavs.
Michael Wallace: Fact. If the Heat win tonight to pull within one game of the Bulls in the loss column, I can see this coming down to one of the tie-breakers for the No. 1 seed in the East - not that it would even matter much to Miami. The Heat still have two games against the woeful Wizards in addition to one against a Houston team fighting for its playoff life and a Boston team that could chose to rest its key players next week. I'd set the percentage at closer to 30, with it obviously rising with a win tonight.
Brian Windhorst: Fiction. That seems about right, the Heat are two games back with five games to play and there's quite a lead to overcome. If the Heat are able to win tonight, those odds would increase a little bit, but they would still need to win out and not just hope the Bulls lose, but also to lose to an Eastern Conference team. Let's put it this way, I wouldn't put money on the Heat getting that first seed. But getting a victory tonight would have some other more guaranteed benefits.
2. Fact or Fiction: Bulls' keys to beating the Heat are in order D-Rose, defense, depth.
Haberstroh: Fact. With Derrick Rose ailing, he's the biggest question mark on both teams. Not only that, he has to show he can withstand the defensive coverage of the Heat, a task he hasn't been consistently able to accomplish. The Bulls' depth is a major boon in normal situations, but we're approaching rotation-crunch time. That won't be as much of a benefit anymore.
Wallace: Fiction. I'd go defense, depth and D-Rose. Chicago's defense must dictate the pace against Miami. The Bulls depth can overwhelm you in waves on most nights. Even with the nagging injuries and time missed this season, you assume Rose would regain some rhythm by the time these teams would meet in the conference finals. So the Bulls don't give themselves much of a chance if their defense isn't on point and if the supporting cast isn't there to bail Rose out after coming up short last season.
Windhorst: Fact. I suppose I agree with that. When playing the Bulls, Rose is always the biggest challenge even when he's not 100 percent. Depth has been the thorn in the Heat's side against Chicago in the last two meetings. It's not realistic maybe to believe the Heat's bench will outscore the Bulls bench but it cannot be a 40-point spread like it was last week. It's got to be more competitive.
3. Fact or Fiction: LeBron will win MVP regardless of tonight.
Haberstroh: Fiction. LeBron's popularity among the public and the voting media fluctuates more wildly than the Dow. Seems unwise to etch anything in stone until the end of the regular season. Haven't we learned by now that this is a "What have you done for me lately" world?
Wallace: Fact. I just don't get the sense that the outcome of tonight's game would sway the feelings for LeBron one way or another. Now having said that, if folks just refuse to give it to him, the only candidate out there I believe can make a late run and increase their vote total at this point is Chris Paul. And with the emergence of Russell Westbrook and recent play of James Harden, my feeling is that Paul is more likely to take potential votes away from Kevin Durant than he is to swipe some from LeBron.
Windhorst: Fiction. I do get the sense that LeBron has become the narrow front runner over Kevin Durant. But I also don't think anyone has a compelling case and if there's a stumble it could swing the vote. I do believe, however, that a great performance on national television could lock it up for him.