Two Eastern Conference playoff teams that have dealt with injury woes in recent weeks will battle on Sunday afternoon as the Chicago Bulls (43-36) travel south to take on the Miami Heat (63-16). Chicago leads the season series 2-1.
The final game of the regular-season series will depend a lot which stars actually suit up. The Heat had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh available in Friday's win over the Boston Celtics. Chicago is still holding out hope Derrick Rose will return this season.
Since both teams have already clinched playoff berths, and Miami has locked down the top seed in the East, they probably won't overextend anybody with an eye on the postseason. In other words, it probably won't have the same intensity as a normal clash, unless the Heat want to make a statement.
Here's a look at all the key information for the game, followed by an injury report for both teams, some players to watch and a prediction.
Where: American Airlines Arena in Miami, Fla.
When: Sunday, April 14 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Bulls Injury Report (via USA Today)
Derrick Rose (questionable, knee)
Taj Gibson (questionable, knee)
Joakim Noah (questionable, foot)
Heat Injury Report (via USA Today)
Shane Battier (questionable, knee)
Udonis Haslem (questionable, ankle)
Bulls Player to Watch: Nate Robinson
Robinson has been a spark plug for the Bulls. After a slow start to the season, he's elevated his level of play over the past month. In April, the diminutive guard is averaging 20 points and four assists while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Question marks continue to surround Rose's status, which means the Bulls must continue to plan for the playoffs like they won't have him available. If that ends up being the case, they are going to need Robinson to keep playing a key role.
Going up against the Heat, especially if they are at full strength, will be a good test for him. While it would be difficult to consider Chicago a title contender without Rose, it could definitely make some noise if Robinson keeps playing at a high level.
Heat Player to Watch: Chris Bosh
By now, Bosh's role in the Heat offense is clear. His job is to stretch the defense with his terrific mid-range game to open the lane for drives by James and Wade. When necessary, he can also get into the paint for some easy buckets.
It's his play on the defensive end that will be key come playoff time, though. There are times, especially when he goes up against forwards and centers with more strength, that he can get pushed around down low. He needs to remain aggressive.
While he's been pretty steady throughout the season, he's blocked just one shot in three games this month. Obviously it's a small sample size, but when Bosh isn't forcing tough shots from opposing post players, the Heat defense isn't nearly as strong. A likely battle with Carlos Boozer will test him.
Key Matchup: Luol Deng vs. LeBron James
This is an encounter between two small forwards who know how to fill up the stat sheet. James is on a different level than Deng, and pretty much every other player in the league, at this point in his career. But in a one-game scenario, Deng can hold his own on the offensive end.
The 27-year-old Bulls star is averaging over 16 points and six rebounds per contest, which is right in line with his career numbers. He's coming off a game where he made just three of nine shots, however. He'll be looking for a strong bounce-back showing against the Heat.
James isn't going to make it easy on him. The three-time Most Valuable Player is having another tremendous season. After missing some games recently, he'll be looking to get back into top form heading into the playoffs. His matchup with the talented Deng should help in that process.
Miami Heat 98, Chicago Bulls 94
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