We liked the Chicago Bulls to cover on last Sunday's NBA picks when they hosted a 1 p.m. ABC nationally televised game, and Chicago easily did so against the New York Knicks. The competition is a bit steeper this Sunday when the Miami Heat visit. The next time the teams see each other could well be in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight season. Miami opened as a 3.5-point favorite for Sunday's game on NBA odds with a total of 188.5 for sports bettors.
Heat Likely An Ornery Bunch
The Bulls might be getting Miami (27-30-2 ATS, 34-25 O/U at sportsbooks) at the worst possible time because the Heat will have had two days off to stew about how they were embarrassed Thursday night in San Antonio, falling 111-87 for their second straight loss to a Western powerhouse (Houston) and worst defeat of the year. The Spurs jumped out to a 15-point first-quarter lead and never trailed in their first home meeting with Miami since Game 5 of last year's finals.
On Tuesday morning, the talk around the NBA was how LeBron James may have overtaken Kevin Durant in the MVP race after James' career-high 61 points against Charlotte on Monday night. That talk has quieted. James was OK against Houston with 22 points, although he missed a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. His legs looked gone Thursday as James finished with only 19 points on 6-for-18 shooting. He was 0-for-3 from long range the second straight game. In fact, LeBron was 1-for-11 from outside the paint against the Spurs and is 1-for-17 from outside that range since going 12-of-18 on outside shots against Charlotte.
San Antonio dared him to make jumpers, a strategy that worked for the Spurs in the first five games of last year's Finals but not the final two. James decided to ditch the plastic mask protecting his broken nose in the first quarter Thursday and even seemed to off-handedly blame the tight-fitting short-sleeved jerseys the teams wore. Expect Coach Erik Spoelstra to harp on getting off to a good start Sunday. The Rockets scored 39 first-quarter points and led by seven Tuesday and the Spurs 37 in their 15-point advantage.
End Of Rivalry As We Know It?
The Bulls (32-30 ATS. 25-37 O/U at sportsbooks) lost a predictably ugly defensive slugfest Friday night at home to Memphis, 85-77. Granted, Chicago isn't a great offensive team, but it had just two points in the final five minutes of the game. Joakim Noah wasn't a sure thing to play after getting his thumb checked out earlier in the day and being diagnosed with a sprain. He played and had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists but an uncharacteristic six turnovers. The Bulls are rarely outrebounded but were 45-38. They have won 10 of 13 but failed to top 80 points in those three losses.
If these two don't face off in the postseason, it's fascinating to think how each might look next season. The big talk this week was that Noah was trying to recruit Carmelo Anthony to join the Bulls as a free agent this offseason. An Anthony/Derrick Rose/Noah trio -- and if the Bulls don't have to trade Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson to get Anthony -- would be quite the threat to Miami's Big 3, presuming LeBron and Chris Bosh are back in south Florida next season as they are both going to opt out of their contracts this summer. If Anthony does sign with Chicago and Miami stays intact, go ahead and mark down in ink that the Heat and Bulls will tip off the 2014-15 season against one another as they did this year.
Heat lead 2-1 with all three blowouts. Miami raised its championship banner on opening night against Chicago and rolled 107-95 as a 5-point favorite for sports bettors. Tough to take much from that, especially considering the Bulls still had Derrick Rose and Luol Deng then. in the lone meeting in Chicago, the Bulls won 107-87 as 4.5-point underdogs on NBA odds. Rose was gone by then and the Bulls still had Deng, while the Heat didn't have Dwayne Wade. On Feb. 23 in Miami, the Heat won 93-79 as 5-point favorites. LeBron sat out with his broken nose, so Wade stepped up with 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The Bulls, playing without Jimmy Butler, were a terrible 29-for-81 from the field. D.J. Augustin was 0-for-10. Take Miami for your NBA picks.
NBA Free Picks: Miami -3.5 and under. The Heat are 4-1 in their past five after an ATS loss and the under is 5-0 in Miami's past five after a defeat. The favorite has covered in five of the past seven meetings.