The Bulls understand, obviously, that regular-season victories over Miami and homecourt advantage in the playoffs don’t mean much.
So Thursday’s 96-86 victory over the Heat at the United Center — a triumph of bench play and 3-point marksmanship — doesn’t deserve any deep meaning. But Miami’s mediocre play during the past six weeks (12-10 since March 2) suggests major flaws in the three-star system.
When the Heat lost to the Bulls on March 14, Miami’s unproductive supporting cast seemed to drag down the team. By now, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra appears to be in panic mode.
During the last two weeks, Spoelstra has switched his starting center from Joel Anthony to Ronny Turiaf to Udonis Haslem. Two rookie guards who played major roles at times this season — Norris Cole and Terrel Harris — never got off the bench Thursday.
TNT analyst Steve Kerr noticed the confusion.
“Isn’t it amazing, here we are with 10 games left in the season for the Heat and they’re not settled on a rotation,” Kerr said during the contest. “They’re sill trying to find their playoff rotation.”
Haslem came down with the stomach flu and didn’t play in the second half, so Turiaf was the Heat’s most productive non-Bosh big man, grabbing 8 rebounds.
Otherwise, Miami’s supporting cast just stunk. As bad as Derrick Rose shot the ball, he wasn’t the worst player on the court. That honor goes to Mike Miller, who went 1-for-9 from the field with 3 turnovers.
Shane Battier needed 31 minutes of court time to contribute 2 points and 2 rebounds. There wasn’t much evidence to suggest Mario Chalmers played, though the box score claimed he logged 28 minutes.
Overall, Miami’s supporting cast combined for just 15 points, while the Bulls’ bench outscored the Heat reserves 47-7.
Did Miami make some bad choices when filling out its roster? Maybe, but these guys have all played well in the past.
Here’s another idea: No role player will succeed in this situation. The divide between the Power Trio and Heatlitos is greater than the distance from Key West to Key Largo. It’s one team with two different worlds.
Miami’s offense is pretty basic — LeBron James dominates the ball for a while, then Dwyane Wade takes over for a spell and Chris Bosh waits in an open spot in case the other team gives too much defensive help (which happens often).
All three of those guys played well on Thursday, but they had nothing left for overtime, when the Bulls outscored the Heat 12-2. James never left the court after halftime.
“We’ve got to trust our bench a little more,” Wade said after the game. “We got to give those guys an opportunity. We need to give then some confidence.”
With Rose off his game, the Bulls basically had no supporting cast and the strong play of the reserves was based on opportunity. There’s no magic formula — guys like C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver have always shot better when given more minutes.
“We’re a team that has a lot of different options,” Taj Gibson said after the contest. “One thing about our team, we never complain. We’re always ready.”
What Miami has is a perpetual cycle of shortcomings. Guys like Chalmers, Miller and Battier are asked to support the Power Trio, but they get to shoot about once every 15 possessions.
Inevitably, they slump, lose playing time and the cycle starts again. Some other role player hoping to earn an easy ring steps into the no-win situation. Who knows what the locker room dynamic is like with the Three Kings and Nine Bricklaying Commoners system?
The Bulls and Heat will likely meet again in the conference finals. Without a doubt, Miami has enough talent to dominate the Bulls. But this much is obvious — the Heat won’t win any titles playing 3-on-5.
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