All season long, everyone has assumed that Thursday night's game between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat will be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals. And while I still believe we will see the Bulls and the Heat battle for the Eastern title, the matchup is not as much of a certainty as it was two months ago.
Both clubs, for different reasons, appear to be more vulnerable than we expected heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
First, let's look at the Heat.
We all know Miami has struggled since the All-Star break, going 13-9 and failing miserably in almost every matchup with an elite team. In games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Bulls (without Derrick Rose), Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics, the Heat have gone 1-5 in that span. On the road, they've been horrible, losing seven of their last 10.
The Heat's response to their lackluster play has been that they're not worried, that these are the dog days of the regular season, that they've just hit a rough patch. I tend to think those comments are just defense mechanisms. Deep down inside the Heat know they're vulnerable. They're just trying to put up a tough front.