Heat set to face Bulls for the first time this season

John Lucas doesn't play for the Bulls anymore, so he's safe from getting jumped over this game. - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls remain a competitive team, and will look to upset Miami at the American Airlines Arena. Also, notes.

You can make several conclusions when you look at the Eastern Conference Standings in comparison to the Western Conference standings.

For one, you might think the Eastern Conference is really thin and weak outside the of the defending champions. Part of this is because a team without a single sure-fire All-star is four games over .500 nearly halfway through the season and competing for home court advantage in the conference.

We could also look at this by taking a minute to continue to stress the fantastic job that Bulls (17-13) head coach Tom Thibodeau has done since he took over that job in 2010.

Yes, the Bulls are still relevant, even without injured star Derrick Rose. The team that has given Miami (22-8) a share of regular season battles the last few seasons that the Heat were able to defeat in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals is still a pesky, formidable foe.

And although removing Derrick Rose to injury (And a bad off-season that stripped the team of depth) has halted the Bulls offensive efficiency this season, an argument can be made that the Bulls defense and rebounding had a bigger part to do with their fantastic regular season finishes the last few years than the explosive star did.

Rose may take them to another level, but the team would free-fall, with or without Rose, if it weren't for the extremely productive defenses Thibodeau has probably drilled into Bulls' players craniums since he showed up. It's a relationship the Bulls created by getting what seems like everything out of all of their resources to make the Bulls a contender around their All-Star guard, and in turn, maximizing him by putting him and his team in position to win titles. The Bulls are fifth in Defensive Rating this season.

Rose will be back soon, but not in time for this game.

But the Heat should know that the Bulls will be in town to play Miami tough, and remain a pretty good team.

NOTES

* LeBron James sat out practice yesterday with a bruised knee but told the media afterward that he is hopeful about playing. James hasn't missed a game since last regular season, playing heavy minutes last postseason and into the Olympics before being amongst the league leaders in minutes to start this season.

* The effusive praise I rained on Thibs in this preview regarding the Bulls defense is not to take away anything from a few of the Bulls core players who are borderline All-Stars, even if they aren't full fledged star complements to Rose. Joakim Noah is having a fantastic season, averaging a double-double and filling in the box score every night with assists, blocks and steals.

Think the Heat are struggling with rebounding? Joakim is coming to town, and he's not nice to teams that don't rebound well. Someone tell Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem to buckle up.

* Remember when Dwyane Wade was an old corpse who had fell from grace and aged so disgustingly in front of our eyes that it was unbearable? We'll, at least you remember the over-exaggerated stories about it. I tried to tell people he usually stats slow here, but nonetheless, the actual regression to the mean in real time speaks louder.

After a sluggish start, Wade scorched his path en route 55 percent shooting in December. The 30-year-old scored 22 points per game in the month, which was his average last season, after getting just 17 a game in 10 November contests. I don't think it's crazy to say he's at the tail end of his prime, like every other human being usually is at this age, but he's probably not dead either.

* John Lucas III doesn't play for the Bulls anymore, so he won't have to worry about getting leaped over by another human again.

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