For a second straight season, the Bulls and Heat will meet in a do-or-die play-in game to decide which team will claim the eighth seed and advance to the NBA playoffs.

However, given the players we can expect to take the court, this game will likely have a different feel. 

If we look at the starting lineups from last year’s matchup, Zach LaVine (season-ending injury) is unavailable for the Bulls, and the team opted not to bring back Patrick Beverley in the offseason.

As for the Heat, they’ll have a completely different look with Jimmy Butler (MCL sprain) ruled out and guards Max Strus (Cavaliers) and Gabe Vincent (Lakers) moving on to new teams.

Nonetheless, several sportsbooks, including FanDuel and bet365, have Miami as a two-point favorite, and the total around 206 after being bet down from 209.5.

While there’s always an inherent risk in trying to fade Miami in the postseason, given its rich history and culture, I’ll share why this roster might struggle against a Bulls team looking to avenge last year’s play-in loss. We’ll also look at a couple of player props.

Bulls vs. Heat odds

Team Spread Moneyline Total
Bulls +1.5 (-105) +110 o206.5 (-110)
Heat -1.5 (-115) -135 u206.5 (-110)
Odds via BetMGM

Bulls analysis

We probably shouldn’t make too much of Chicago’s 131-116 victory over Atlanta in the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game. After all, the Hawks were a team riddled with injuries and finished the season 10 games under .500.

However, we saw a Chicago team perform well offensively, and it’s been the more consistent team in that category compared to Miami.

Per TeamRankings, the Bulls (111.4) have a higher offensive rating than the Heat (110.6), and it’s a bit telling that the pace seemed to favor Chicago in the four head-to-head meetings this season, with three games going over the total. The teams split the series, but Chicago went 3-1 against the spread.

Even with Miami wanting to muck things up as much as possible, the Bulls used their perimeter shooting to inject some pace into the game. They must have identified something in the scouting report because they averaged 39 3-point attempts over the four games — seven more than their season average. 

Interestingly, while the Heat rank fifth in defensive efficiency, they don’t do a great job running its opponents off the 3-point line. Miami is 24th in opponent 3-point attempts, with 36.8 allowed per game.

If the Bulls follow a similar tactic, they’ll have a decent chance of making the game more wide-open and taking the Heat out of its comfort zone.

Heat analysis

One thing that gets lost in the discussion of Miami’s play-in tournament victory last year over the Bulls is that Chicago swept the regular season series 3-0. Moreover, despite finishing two games below .500, Chicago’s +1.3 net rating was even better than Miami’s (-0.5).

Butler and Strus played the biggest roles in the win over Chicago, with each player scoring 31 points. In addition to shooting 19-of-40, both players aggressively attacked the driving lanes. They combined to make 17-of-18 free throws, and Miami outscored Chicago 28-11 from the charity stripe.

Without that aggression, there’s a good chance Miami wouldn’t have won the game because the Bulls were the better shooting team (43.9% vs. 41%) on the night.

Miami’s two other current starters, Tyler Herro (12) and Bam Adebayo (8), managed just 20 combined points in the game on 6-of-21 shooting from the floor.

With Butler injured and Strus in Cleveland, Miami will need to turn in another direction to find other players to lead the team.

Butler led the Heat with 7.7 free-throw attempts per game this season, and Adebayo is second with 5.5. Besides those two players, Miami doesn’t go to the line that much, as Herro ranks third on the team with 2.6 trips per game.

Thus, getting Adebayo to the free throw line early and often could prove crucial should Miami win the game.

Bulls vs. Heat player props

Even with Butler sitting out, I would’ve probably given Miami the edge had it been any other team. However, last season’s loss is still a fresh wound for DeMar DeRozan and the Bulls.

“I remember that plane ride back home vividly,” DeRozan told reporters on Thursday. “Everybody was just frustrated. That feeling sucked. I know for me, that’s one thing that’s on my mind once I realized we were going back to Miami—not to have that same feeling.”

With Butler unavailable, it’s fair to wonder whether Miami can still summon that killer instinct. If there’s ever a time to fade Miami, this is the moment, and in this spot.

Given Butler’s absence, Miami’s player props offer plenty of intrigue.

Adebayo improved his 3-point shooting to a career-best of 35.7% while shooting a career-high of 42 attempts. While he’s attempted 104 regular-season 3-pointers, he’s only attempted six in 64 postseason games, and he’s still looking for his first trey.

Betting on the NBA?

In two play-in games last season, Adebayo didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer and went 0-for-2 in Miami’s loss to the 76ers. 

With Adebayo likely focusing his efforts inside the paint, there’s value in playing his 3-point prop under 0.5./ -128 at FanDuel.

Lastly, one player who tends to have an uptick in production when Butler doesn’t play is Miami small forward Haywood Highsmith. According to StatMuse, Highsmith’s minutes have increased from 19 to 25.9 and his scoring from 5.3 to 8.9 points without Butler. 

Most of Highsmith’s shots come from beyond the arc (58%), and despite an 0-for-4 performance from the perimeter on Wednesday against the 76ers, he still attacked the basket, finishing with nine points on 4-for-8 shooting. 

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will be aware of this, as Highsmith’s aggression should be rewarded with some extra touches to exceed his points prop of 6.5.

Bulls vs. Heat picks

  • Bulls +2 (-110, bet365)
  • Bam Adebayo under 0.5 3-pointers (-166, DraftKings)
  • Haywood Highsmith over 6.5 points (-115, DraftKings)
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