The NBA season is nearly over, and the Miami Heat look like the clear favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
The Heat have a 10.5-game lead in the conference and will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They are led by LeBron James, who will likely win his fourth MVP award in five seasons.
The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls may be the two teams with the best chance of upsetting the Heat in the postseason. The Knicks have beaten Miami three times in the regular season and hold the second-best record in the East. The Bulls are 2-1 against Miami and ended the club’s 27-game winning streak.
On Thursday night, the New York and Chicago meet at United Center at 8 p.m. ET. The game is set to air on TNT, but viewers can watch a free live stream online with TNT Overtime.
It’s the fourth and final time the two teams will meet in the 2012-2013 season. The Bulls have dominated the season series, winning all three previous contests. They led by more than 20 points in both games at Madison Square Garden.
Recent meeting between the two teams, however, may not have any indication on the result of Thursday’s game. Both clubs will be without a few of their tot players.
For New York, both Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin will be sidelined. Chandler has been battling a pinched nerve in his neck, though head coach Mike Woodson said he would be on the court if this were a playoff game. Martin has a severely sprained ankle and it’s unknown when he’ll return.
Chicago will play even more shorthanded. While they’ve been without Derrick Rose for the entire year, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will be in street clothes. The center has missed nine of the Bulls last 10 games with a foot injury and Gibson hasn’t played since April 2.
Loul Deng has been listed as a game-time decision. He’s missed the last two games with a bruised hip.
Deng has played almost as well as any player against the Knicks this season. In three games, he’s averaging 28 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest.
Even without their best players, the Bulls will try to be the first team to defeat the Knicks since March 17. On Tuesday, the Knicks beat the Washington Wizards for their 13th straight win.
Carmelo Anthony has been the biggest catalyst for New York’s recent success. He’s currently playing better than anyone in the NBA, averaging 40.6 points on 61.1 percent shooting in his last five games.
With the Bulls missing their top stars and Anthony playing so well, the Knicks are expected to get some revenge in Chicago. Most Las Vegas casinos have them listed as 4.5-point favorites.
Prediction: New York 95, Chicago 93