NBA Season Series Wrap-up: Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat

Two of NBA Basketball’s top teams clash tonight at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida, as the Miami Heat (44-17, 26-4 home) get set to take on the visiting Chicago Bulls (47-15, 23-8 away) with tip-off starting at 8:00 PM ET. With a 2 1/2 game separation between the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls and the 2nd place, Southeast division champion Heat, there’s little question that although both teams have secured playoff spots, the action will be intense with the #1 overall spot in the NBA on the line this evening.

The Miami Heat have had their high and low points throughout the season, lumbering through certain parts of the grueling lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, but heading into the final 5 games of the regular season, everything appears to be right on track for the playoff run to come. Winners of 4 straight games after dropping 3 of 4 previously, Miami has beaten its’ last 4 opponents by an average of 14.5 points, albeit with two hefty wins over league cellar-dwellers the Charlotte Bobcats and the Toronto Raptors. Despite having a favorable recent schedule, the Heat are well primed to face the incoming Chicago Bulls, who will continue to be without the services of All-star guard Derrick Rose and haven’t won at Miami in the last 4 meetings there. Chicago has prevailed with their deep line-up in the absence of Rose, going 17-8 in 25 games without him this year, and they’ve taken 2 of 3 so far in the series against Miami, with both wins coming at the United Center (including a 10 point overtime win last Thursday). Looking for payback at home, the Heat, led by the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, will look to have both Wade and Bosh rested after being given the night off last night, something that could give them a leg up on a Chicago team that has played in 3 of the past 4 nights.

Chicago will get a boost of their own tonight as Luol Deng is set to return to the lineup after missing a pair of games with a rib injury. With the shooting forward averaging 15.4 points and 6.5 rebounds, his return is certainly valuable against a Miami squad that owns the league’s best home record at 26-4, but has been notably less-than-stellar in the rebounding aspect of the game, ranking 22nd in the NBA with 41.5 rebounds/game. Chicago on the other hand, via Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, rank first in that category, with a massive 46.6 boards per contest. As this game should be close on the scoring lines with two defenses that play very well (Chicago leads the league allowing only 88.6 points/game, Miami is 6th, at 93.1 ppg), the rebounding game on offense and defense should be of paramount importance tonight, and will be an area that Chicago will look to exploit. Another factor for the Bulls pulling out a rare road victory against Miami will be whether or not they can properly contain LeBron James, who in the last meeting with Chicago at home went for 35 points and 11 rebounds as the Heat squeezed out a 4 point victory, 97-93. James has shot lights out against the Bulls, averaging just over 33 points on 51 percent shooting in 3 games, so finding a way to limit his effectiveness on offense will be a focal point of Chicago’s game plan this evening.

For Miami, who sits 2 1/2 games out of 1st place behind the Bulls, this is the last chance they’ll have to keep the race for the top seed alive, as with a loss at home they’ll in turn allow Chicago to lock up the top-spot and a much more favorable match-up against the flailing Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA playoffs to come. The Heat, who have seen a rash of injuries play out over the past week and hit the supporting cast including Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and James Jones, should be at full strength tonight, but will need the help of their bench to stay fresh and knuckle down on defense against a Bulls team that can wear opponents down with a methodical offensive plan, and shutdown defense. Miami needs to be big especially in the middle of the court tonight, where Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have typically had their way against Miami. These big, physical players have to be kept in check, and how the Heat utilize Chris Bosh (averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds in his last 4 games) and Udonis Haslem in the paint will be critical. Outside of these two players, Miami doesn’t have the same physicality in the paint, so getting solid defensive nights and lots of rebounds from these two would go a long way towards helping Miami secure a 5th straight win at home against their Eastern Conference opponents. Also, if LeBron James can continue to pull down plenty of rebounds and contribute on the offensive glass especially, Miami will be able to even the playing field with Chicago, and have a leg up with their better shooting percentage from the floor (%47.5 vs. %45.1 on the season).

Betting Lines for the Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat at Intertops Sportsbook.

On the money line at Intertops Sportsbook, Miami takes the pole position as favorites to win, with -220 odds stacked in their favor. Chicago enters as a +180 underdog, and with everyone aside from Derrick Rose back in the line-up, this could be an intriguing wager taking Chicago if you like to try and predict which game will snap a long road losing streak against a single team. Of note, the Bulls are 4-1 in their last 5 games straight up, and 14-3 SU on the road in their last 17 outings. Miami though, is 20-2 in its last 22 games played at the American Airlines Arena, and has beaten Chicago in 8 out of the last 9 played in Miami.

Against the spread, the Heat are a -5 point favorite to win at -110 odds, while the Chicago Bulls sit with a +5 point cushion for underdog pickers on the spread. Chicago is 3-0 against Miami ATS this year and is 20-11 ATS on the road, which is the best in the NBA.

For over/under wagers on total points, the line in the sand is drawn at 183 points, considering the defensive prowess of both teams in action tonight. The points total has been held under in 5 of the last 6 games at home for Miami, and has gone under in 4 of the last 5 games for Chicago as well. 20 of the 30 games Miami has played at home have gone under as well, so expect this match-up to favor a wager leaning towards the underside of total points tonight.

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