Steve Mitchell/US PresswireWill Carlos Boozer and the Bulls be able to handle the Heat on Friday night?
Winners of eight of their past 10, the Miami Heat host the Chicago Bulls on Friday night (ESPN, 8 ET). Are the Bulls a threat in the East when Derrick Rose returns? Is the NBA world taking LeBron James for granted? Our panel breaks it down.
1. Fact or Fiction: Miami’s lack of motivation is a real problem.
Tom Haberstroh: Fiction. Do the Heat have a lack of motivation? Probably. Of the top eight teams in Hollinger's Power Rankings, seven of them are from the West (the Heat are sixth). Not much competition to drive them out East and they already know they don't need a top seed to win it all. But is it a real problem? That's where I disagree. They'll get by.
Michael Wallace: Fiction. Are the Heat playing absolutely inspired basketball every quarter, every game? Certainly not. But name another team that has. Miami's play raises some legitimate concern at times. But c'mon, man. The Heat are first in the East, have one of the best records in the league and are led by two players posting the most efficient shooting numbers of their careers.
Brian Windhorst: Fiction. They have the comforting reality that they play in the Eastern Conference. Other than their terrific overall shooting this season, they have not played up to their potential in any other phase. Yet they are still at the top of the conference standings and, in my mind, are still the overwhelming favorite to win the East. Let's revisit this conversation in March because, before then, I don't think it's an issue.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Bulls with a healthy Rose are the biggest threat to the Heat in the East.
Haberstroh: Fact. Key: healthy. But they won't maximize Rose until they upgrade their shooters. If Joakim Noah keeps up his defensive dominance and Taj Gibson returns to form, watch out.
Wallace: Fiction. That's the highest of hypothetical questions we're pondering here. Rose's injuries have impacted two seasons now. Because of their size, front-line depth, smart point guard play and prolific 3-point shooting, I say a healthy Knicks team represents a bigger potential problem for the Heat.
Windhorst: Fact. But I do not expect a healthy Rose this season. Those adidas commercials were cool, but I don't think they were fair to him. They feed the assumption that he's going to be stronger than ever when he comes back. That could be the case in the future but with his style of play, especially offensively, it is not fair to assume he will be himself when he returns.
3. Fact or Fiction: We take LeBron for granted.
Haberstroh: Fact. Or at least in general, I think so. The guy is averaging 26.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists on 54 percent shooting. No one's ever done that before and, yet, many people don't think he's the most valuable player in the game. The world spent several years nitpicking his flaws because he hadn't won a title. It's going to take some time to move away from that. Now that he's won that elusive title, maybe we can start fully appreciating what he's done rather than what he hasn't done. Also, he just turned 28 last week.
Wallace: Fact. LeBron's best attribute -- beyond the scoring, facilitating, leadership, defense, etc. -- is his durability. That alone separates LeBron from even the league's elite-level players. He's a tank. His ability to play through nagging injuries and still deliver near triple-doubles each night is simply expected. He's supposed to be superhuman, and that's just not fair.
Windhorst: Fact. Let's start with this question: Who is the MVP so far? If there is even a discussion, then the answer is an overwhelming yes on taking him for granted. He's having the best shooting, 3-point shooting (by a lot) and rebounding season of his career so far. This is a career with three MVP awards already. With apologies to others, especially Kevin Durant, LeBron has no true peer right now.