JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
MIAMI VISITS CHICAGO IN POTENTIAL PLAYOFF PREVIEW
Excitement has returned to the NBA...where All-Star Weekend just garnered huge TV ratings, and where a trade sending a superstar scorer to the Big Apple took over the airwaves earlier this week in a way that made Brett Favre green with envy.
Thursday's much anticipated Miami-Chicago game on TNT arrives at the perfect time to take full advantage of this explosion of interest.
- Miami has been playing championship level basketball for several weeks now. Yes, they stubbed their toe early in the season during a disappointing 9-8 start. And, when each of their "big three" stars had to miss time with an injury, the team looked mortal. When HEALTHY, the team has been dominant for a sustained period. They're healthy heading into tonight.
- Chicago has taken the league by storm under new defensive minded head coach Tom Thibodeaux, and rising young point guard Derrick Rose. Crowds in Chicago are chanting "M-V-P" whenever Rose drives for a score. The Bulls are certainly a serious threat to Miami and Boston come playoff time, and could conceivably even make a run at the #1 seed if the breaks fall the right way.
Tonight's game will be the first meeting this year between a healthy Heat and Chicago. The Bulls won 99-96 at home back on January 15th in a game that LeBron James missed. The first and only meeting in Miami is scheduled for Sunday March 6th.
That makes tonight's game very special. We'll learn a lot about how the teams match up right now. What we learn can influence opinions in their rematch a week from Sunday, and in a potential Eastern Conference playoff series should the teams meet in the second round as #2 and #3 seeds, or in
Eastern Finals should one reach the top spot and the other dispatch with Boston in the second round.
Let's crunch some of our favorite NBA indicator numbers to get a read on how the teams stand heading into tonight's must-see encounter.
Rose is getting most of the media coverage, but it's DEFENSE that has made the Bulls a great team this year. The coaching staff immediately got everyone on the same page on that side of the ball, and they've been shutting opponents down cold since the very beginning of the season.
Of course, you could say the same thing about the "big three" in Miami. Everyone talks about their individual scoring stats. But, the Heat know that it will take great defense if they want to bring a championship down to South Beach.
You longtime readers have seen the fruits of our emphasis on defense in both pro and college basketball. It's amazing that the mainstream media can spend so much time focusing on offensive trivia, and so little on what really matters. As you watch the game tonight, pay particular attention to how these head coaches will likely deal with the opposing scoring threats in a playoff environment. San Antonio couldn't contain Rose last week. Will Miami be able to? How will the best defense in the league try to intimidate and disrupt scoring superstars?
Big difference here...and a tie-breaker that may ultimately mean the difference in the postseason. Even with Rose doing a great job of scoring and distributing, the Bulls as a whole are only league average when you adjust for scoring by possession. How bad would they be without Rose carrying such a big load? Miami can share the load amongst a few options. In fact, it barely feels like a load to them because James and Dwyane Wade can take turns as the point of emphasis. You get the feeling Chris Bosh is just a relief pitcher who only scores when needed. Miami ranks 2nd in the league in points per possession yet hasn't even maximized their resources yet!
This matches what we saw defensively. We type the words "defense and rebounding wins championships" a few hundred times each year. We're extremely likely to see a strong defense win the NBA Crown again. But, with so many top defenses in the mix, offense is sitting pretty as a tie-breaker. You can't win with offense alone, as the Knicks are likely to find out in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago has already built championship level defense and rebounding, and now must fill out their weaponry.
Those would suggest Miami is two-points better on a neutral court. One could argue that Miami should grade out BETTER than what you see above because they've been playing so well when healthy ever since that team meeting in Dallas got everyone on the same page. Miami was priced at higher than margin averages would suggest in a recent TV game at Boston. They would ultimately LOSE that game as a favorite though. It will be interesting to see how the team handles tonight's road challenge against another great opponent.
We looked at road records league wide several days ago. This showed up as a red flag for the Bulls at that time. They've been dominant at home. But, playoff teams have to be able to win anywhere. If you're just a game over .500 in a league that has a lot of lousy teams, then you're not playing championship caliber basketball everywhere. This is still something in our eyes that keeps the Bulls behind Miami and Boston in terms of playoff potential. Experience and road savvy matters most when everyone's battling for the trophy. We'll give the Bulls a chance to change our minds in these next few weeks.
Note the difference in the number of road games played. Miami's travelled for 31 encounters. Chicago was at 25 heading into Wednesday's trip to Toronto (played after publication deadlines). That means we should bring out one of our trusty indicator stats to help equalize things.
WINS MINUS HOME GAMES PLAYED
Whoa, big difference there. Miami's had a road heavy schedule to this point, yet still has posted fantastic numbers and the NBA's best margin average. Chicago has played a home heavy schedule, while not exactly setting the world on fire away from home. S
So, Miami is better than the full season data suggests right now...even though the full season data is terrific (and even more terrific if you just focus on the healthy patches). Chicago's not quite as good as they look, though they deserve a lot of credit for their clear improvement under the new head coach.
That sets the stage for tonight...and tonight will set the stage for a great first weekend after the All-Star Break. Among the highlights:
Tonight (both on TNT):
Miami at Chicago
Boston at Denver (the new-look Nuggets!)
Oklahoma City at Orlando on ESPN
Denver at Portland on ESPN
LA Clippers at the LA Lakers (Blake vs. Kobe!)
Boston at the LA Clippers on the NBA Network
LA Lakers at Oklahoma City on ABC
New York at Miami on ESPN (Hello!)
Atlanta at Portland on ESPN
The Knicks get their first big challenge of the Carmelo Anthony era with that Sunday Night trip to Miami, as the Heat provide the bookends for a great weekend of NBA action.
And, you know the colleges are still going strong. We'll be back here in the NOTEBOOK Friday for an early look at BYU-San Diego State (an early Saturday tip on CBS). Saturday's report will cover Duke at Virginia Tech in prime time on ESPN. What a great time to be a basketball fan!
What a great time to be a client of JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!
Game day releases go up a few hours before first tip every day. We have great rates for the full season that offer the most bang for your buck (and the most bank for your buck too!). If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.
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