MIAMI -- It's the biggest NBA game of the season! Its outcome will have implications that will be remembered in June!
For once, it's no exaggeration. Well, not completely.
Sunday's showdown between the Bulls and Heat is truly the NBA's most anticipated event of the season, at least thus far. But it's just another regular-season game.
Still, let's be honest: Chicago and Miami are the class of the East, and no disrespect to current league-best Oklahoma City -- or other West contenders, such as defending-champion Dallas, the two L.A. teams or even underrated Memphis -- but a game pitting the reigning MVP, Coach of the Year and what's regarded as the best defense in the business against the "Big Three" is as good as it gets for late January, especially in this lockout-shortened campaign. And Derrick Rose can downplay it, but all eyes will be on Biscayne Blvd. Sunday afternoon.
Since the last time the two squads faced off, in the Eastern Conference Finals, much of the personnel has stayed the same. However, the offseason moves made by the respective front offices have been impactful.
Role players were the Heat's focus, as veteran "three-and-D" specialist Shane Battier, rookie point guard Norris Cole and even former Bulls center Eddy Curry, a Chicago native, took their talents. Meanwhile, the Bulls opted for quality over quantity, acquiring Rip Hamilton to fill their void at shooting guard, the team's only addition since last season, now that the short stint of journeyman point guard Mike James, waived Saturday, is over.
While those moves will have some say in Sunday's result, a cursory analysis of the matchups and brief evaluation of the season to date reveals that many of the same questions from a year ago still exist. But whether LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can be simultaneously productive, Rose gets enough help from the highly-scrutinized big-man duo of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer or even if Luol Deng returns from torn ligaments in his left wrist is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
For the record, Bosh was playing some of the best basketball of his brief tenure in Miami prior to Wade, who looked remarkably spry in Friday night's Heat win over the reeling Knicks, returning from a sprained ankle. Unfortunately for Bulls fans, James' issues in the clutch haven't yet against Chicago. And while there will likely be plenty of focus on Rose's approach and how the Bulls' big men play following their various struggles last spring, perhaps a more important aspect of the game will be how effective the Bulls' perimeter players -- such as Hamilton, who, like Deng, is a game-time decision -- are when Miami's defense inevitably collapses on Rose.
Regardless of whether the two teams are prohibitive favorites to face off again at the same juncture where they met last postseason, keep in mind that the Bulls swept last year's regular-season series over the Heat before bowing out in five games in the conference finals, an indicator that, game of the season or not, maybe less significance should be placed on an early-January affair. But boy, won't it be fun to watch?