Conspiracy theories probably are valid when it comes to the Bullsí scheduled dates against the Miami Heat.
Theyíll meet for the first time this season Friday night at American Airlines Arena. The other three meetings are set for Feb. 21 and later when a certain MVP point guard should be back from knee surgery.
For now it seems apparent that Miami is still the class of the Eastern Conference, and the Bulls, when Rose gets healthy, will ultimately be the Heatís biggest threat. Fridayís game wonít do much toward proving or disproving that theory.
It is amazing, though, how much these teams have in common.
Until winning in Orlando on Wednesday, the Bulls seemed to be in a holiday lull, with 3 losses in the previous four games, all by double digits.
Miamiís last four games featured double-digit losses at Detroit and Milwaukee, then it needed overtime this week to beat Orlando and Dallas.
The Bulls are bemoaning a lack of rebounds. After dominating the boards early this season, theyíve been outrebounded in eight of their last 10 games. Granted, the differential was a mere minus-1 against the Magic.
The Heat, meanwhile, has defied all logic by posting a 22-8 record despite ranking 29th in the league in rebounds per game.
The lack of rebounds probably can be explained by the reliance on a small lineup. Miami seems to have given up on the idea of developing a center and is using Chris Bosh as the de-facto five.
Udonis Haslem, once one of the teamís best rebounders, is averaging less than 20 minutes per game.
Both coaches have been accused of wearing down players. For the Bulls, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah rank first and third, respectively, in minutes per game. Noah skipped the Orlando game Wednesday because of an illness. His status for the Heat is unknown.
Miami star LeBron James sat out practice Thursday to received treatment on a bruised right knee, though he expects to play against the Bulls. James logged a total of 90 minutes in this weekís two overtime games and has played at least 40 minutes in eight of the last 15.
Overall, though, James is tied for sixth in the league in minutes per game at 38.4, behind Deng, Kevin Durant, Noah, Kobe Bryant and Jrue Holiday.
Both the Bulls and the Heat are working new players into the mix this season, with mixed results.
Bulls shooting guard Marco Belinelli, for example, had a good game the first time he went back to the bench in favor of Richard Hamilton.
Belinelli hasnít done much the past two games. Against the Magic, coach Tom Thibodeau sent Hamilton back onto the floor late in the fourth quarter.
Since coming back from the foot injury, Hamilton had been playing the first seven or eight minutes of the first and third quarters, then sitting out the rest of the half.
Kirk Hinrich, an old Bulls newcomer, returned from a bruised knee of his own against Orlando and had 8 assists.
The Heat essentially added two new players. Ray Allen, 37, has been reliable, averaging 11.6 points while shooting an impressive 45.6 percent from 3-point range.
Rashard Lewis, on the other hand, is averaging just 5.4 points and hasnít played since Dec. 20.
The Bulls havenít gotten a complete effort since the Dec. 21 win at New York. During the last five games, it seems as though some players show up and others donít.
Against Orlando, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson ó starting in place of Noah ó helped the Bulls grab a win.
It will take at least eight guys playing well to stay competitive against the Heat.
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