MIAMI -- In general, the NBA is a fragile league in which momentum and outlooks often change quickly. In a season like this, in which the games come out of a fire hose, that tenet is magnified.
So a week after the Miami Heat were dejected following an overtime loss in Chicago, not only do they get another shot at the Bulls, but they get one with some meaning.
After beating the Toronto Raptors 96-72 on Wednesday without Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat have won four games since losing the April 12 meeting with the Bulls. Chicago, meanwhile, stumbled and lost to the Washington Wizards on Monday, essentially resetting the scenario that existed last week.
When the Heat host the Bulls on Thursday in the last of four meetings (Chicago leads the season series 2-1), the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed, which seemed as good as gone last week, is back in play. The Heat are two games back in the loss column and a victory Thursday would make things fairly interesting.
There’s a series of cascading tiebreakers but, basically, if the Heat win there would be some new pressure on the Bulls to win out.
“Everything is still up for grabs right now,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “So if you have an opportunity, you have to take it.”
With the win over Toronto, the Heat locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed. The argument could be made that being in the second spot is even more advantageous than the top spot because it would be on the opposite side of the bracket as the Boston Celtics, who have won the last two meetings with Miami. And that spot may even wind up being on the opposite side of the New York Knicks, one of the hottest teams over the past month, depending on how the next week goes.
Nonetheless the Heat, who are a league-best 26-4 at home, do value home-court advantage.
“We need to play for something,” said LeBron James, who had 28 points in three quarters against Toronto. “It’s not all about the No. 1 seed, it’s about continuing to get better, and if it happens we’ll relish that moment. None of us want to go into the postseason losing games.”
Beyond the seeding, the Heat could also use the confidence boost. They’ve lost the past two meetings against Chicago, one played without Derrick Rose and the other played on a night when Rose had one of the worst shooting games of his career (1-of-13).
Rose, who has missed the past two games, including the Bulls' win Wednesday in Charlotte, might not play again because of a fluid buildup in his foot. Luol Deng also didn’t play Wednesday because of bruised ribs. Regardless of who is in uniform, the Bulls have been better than Miami in the past two meetings because of their depth.
Last week it was gruesome, as Chicago's reserves outscored the Heat bench 47-7. In the previous meeting a month before, it was a 56-15 margin.
It appears the Heat, after giving rest to a handful of players over the past few days, will be at full strength on their bench and reasonably rested for this meeting. Wade hasn’t played since Sunday, Bosh since Monday and Ronny Turiaf since the last meeting with the Bulls. Mike Miller had his highest-scoring game since Jan. 30 on Wednesday, putting up 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
“I know the guys will be looking forward to it,” Spoelstra said. “All things being equal, we would probably prefer this one was on the road again and have the opportunity we had last week. I’m sure both sides are looking forward to it.”