Saturday, May 18, 2024

Bulls Catch Huge Break Ahead Of Friday’s Play-In Finale Versus Miami Heat

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Last night was the first round of the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament, which saw the Philadelphia 76ers defeat a weakened Miami Heat team in the first of two matchups. The Chicago Bulls bullied the Atlanta Hawks in the latter one behind a career-best 42-point outing from Coby White. This sent the 76ers and reigning MVP Joel Embiid into the NBA Playoffs as the 7th seed, where they’ll meet the New York Knicks in the opening round. Chicago will now visit Miami on Friday night for the privilege of meeting the league’s best record during the regular season, the 64-18 Boston Celtics when the NBA Playoffs begin. Heat star Jimmy Butler went down temporarily in the first quarter of last night’s road loss, but continued to play through the game on his hobbled leg. This morning, Shams Charania reported that his injury is more severe than initially thought and that his remaining in the game yesterday was a fantastic feat.

Jimmy Butler Officially Ruled Out

The Heat have received crushing news in a do-or-die game on Friday night. Thankfully for Chicago, arguably the best player in clutch postseason scenarios will be sidelined for their repeat of last year’s matchup. In the 2023 Play-In Tournament, Butler took over the game versus the Bulls down the stretch and continued to carry Miami to the NBA Finals as an eighth seed. He’s averaged a team-high 22.3 points per game against Chicago in their four meetings during the regular season and always plays the Bulls with an extra chip on his shoulder.

Without Jimmy Butler, the Heat are an impressive 13-9 and are certainly no slouch. They’ll still boast 2024 Paris Olympic Games Team USA member Bam Adebayo and 2022 NBA Sixth Man Of The Year Tyler Herro. Any Erik Spoelstra-coached team always stands a chance, especially in postseason action.

Same Teams, New Matchup

Although this is a repeat clash from the 2023 Play-In Tournament final, these are two entirely different teams heading into Friday night. Compared to a year ago, Miami is missing Jimmy Butler and Max Strus, who combined for 62 of their 102 points as a team, including 17-for-18 from the free throw line and 7-for-14 from beyond the three-point arc. They’ll need to replace two lethal scoring options from a season ago.

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The Bulls will also miss some of their firepower from the 2022-23 campaign. Most notably, Zach LaVine, who was only mediocre in the Play-In matchup a year ago, scoring 15 points on a miserable 6-for-21 from the field. They’ll also be without Patrick Beverley, Patrick Williams, and Alex Caruso, who all contributed in last year’s game. Long story short, this is a new version of both the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls fighting for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Butler’s injury widens the open-door opportunity for Chicago, but missing Caruso will be an understated blow to their defensive efforts. Thankfully, experience has been gained throughout the regular season, with both teams battling constant injuries, so this is nothing new for either side. Look for Dalen Terry, Jevon Carter, Javonte Green, and Ayo Dosunmu to gain more burden without their All-NBA First Team defender.

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