Numbers to Know Ahead of the Bulls’ Play-In Battle with the Heat
One win down, one more to go. Here’s the stats you need to know ahead of the Bulls second Play-In matchup with the Heat in Miami on Friday night.
Despite Miami holding the 9th-best defensive rating in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls have shot remarkably well against the Heat this season.
The team has averaged 51.2 percent field goal percentage during their three matchups with Miami this year. This included a pretty remarkably 56.3 percent showing back in March when they dished 34 assists on 35 made baskets. While I’d warn against expecting the Bulls to shoot above 50 percent in this fourth battle, that’s literally what they’ve averaged since the All-Star break.
Indeed, the Bulls sat behind only the Los Angeles Clippers for the highest FG% in the NBA over their final 23 games of the regular season. They met exactly their average in the second half of Wednesday night’s game with a 50 percent showing against the Raptors’ defense.
Now, Miami has been even better than Toronto at limiting points in the paint this season, allowing opponents to score the second-fewest per game (46.2) behind only the Knicks. But the Bulls have shown they can overcome their physicality three times already this season.
One reason the Bulls have been able to make it past the Heat’s defense with ease is due to their far-better-than-expected 3-point shot-making.
Chicago averaged 14.3 made buckets from downtown in their season series with Miami. This is their highest average against any opponent they faced three or more times this season. And that scares the crap out of me.
While I’d love to think that the Bulls can get hot behind the arc AGAIN, I can never walk into a game expecting this team to provide an above-average performance from long-range. The truth is that the 7-26 showing that we got in the matchup with Toronto is a far more likely outcome. So, with that being the case, are they capable of pulling off the victory without a decent shooting night from 3? We have yet to see it.
103.3 Points Per Game
Similar to the Raptors, Miami’s offense isn’t their bread and butter. They ended the regular season with the 6th-worst offensive rating in the NBA. Outside of Jimmy Butler and a streaky Tyler Herro, there are very few players who are capable of creating their own offense.
The Heat have averaged just 103.3 points in their three meetings with the Bulls, which is the third-lowest among Bulls opponents this season. They were able to muster just two more points than that average in their meeting against the Hawks’ 22nd-ranked defense in their first Play-In game. While you can never rule out a big game from Jimmy Butler or a hot hand behind the arc from these Miami role players, the Bulls’ 5th-ranked defense should be able to give them some fits.
If the Chicago Bulls lose this game, it’s likely going to be because Jimmy Butler did Jimmy Butler things.
Despite his winless stint against his former team this year, Butler did shoot a combined 25 free throw attempts. He went 14-16 on opening night. Overall, Butler sits 7th in the NBA in FTAs per game, and there is no question he can use this skill to take over a game. Whether it be via slowing down the pace of play or getting opponents in foul trouble, few players can turn games as ugly and choppy as Butler (and that’s a compliment).
I should also probably note that Butler only played in two of the three games this season against Chicago. I’m not sure his presence would have changed the outcome of the other game, but we can never rule that out.
18.2 Points Off TOV
Again, there are several things about facing the Raptors that will feel similar to facing the Heat. And one of those things will be the importance of taking care of the basketball.
Miami averaged 18.2 points off turnovers this season, which is the 6th-highest total in the NBA. They sit one spot behind the Raptors and force the 3rd-most turnovers per game (15.7). Chicago did a solid job limiting transition opportunities for Toronto and keeping their hands on the ball with just 10 turnovers. Doing that again will be absolutely pivotal against Miami’s ball pressure.
14.7 Clutch Net Rating
If the game comes down to the wire, the odds will likely favor the Heat. As good as the Bulls have been in crunch time during the second half of the season, Miami sat with the second-highest clutch net rating in the league this season. In terms of clutch wins, they sat at the top of the NBA with 32.
This team is experienced enough to grind out victories on the big stage. And, despite what the Bulls did this week, I undoubtedly still worry about their ability to do that.