The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls open their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup, but the biggest story surrounding the series is about the player who likely will not make an appearance on the court.
Chicago point guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL over a year ago, but has remained on the bench even after he was cleared by team doctors to resume playing. While a return is possible, the fact that Rose sat out while his Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets in 7 games in the first round suggests that his return will wait until next season.
Rose is not the only Bull hurting. Luol Deng missed Chicago's last game with meningitis, Kurt Hinrich is wearing a walking boot, Joakim Noah has been dealing with plantar faciitis, and Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson have been slowed by the flu.
Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade has had eight days between games to rest his sore right knee, while the Heat played very efficient basketball during their first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks.
But the Bulls have always played Miami tough during the Big Three era, and few expect that to change during this series. Miami and Chicago split the regular season series with two wins apiece. It was the Bulls who snapped the Heat's 27-game winning streak, the second-best streak in NBA history.
Even without Rose, the Bulls have remained one of the best defensive teams in the league for the third straight season. Chicago gave up 1.032 points per possession, sixth-least in the NBA.
But Chicago is offensively challenged, to say the least. The Bulls scored fewer points per game than all but one team in the regular season, aided in part by their slow pace of play.
Rose's absence is the biggest culprit for Chicago's offensive woes, but it does not help that his teammates shoot just 44% from the field (25th in the NBA). However, Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer have stepped up their play, shooting 55% and 50%, respectively, in the first round.
LeBron James, fresh off being named the NBA's MVP for the fourth time in the past five years, should have another big series, especially if Deng (Chicago's top wing defender) is not up to speed early in the series.
Can the rested Heat slow down the banged up Bulls? Tipoff is just after 7pm ET, with coverage on TNT.