The Chicago Bulls will face a familiar nemesis when it visits the Miami Heat in the season opener on Wednesday.
Miami has won 11 of its last 13 meetings against Chicago, including a season sweep of all four games last season. The Heat won the last three meetings by an average of 19 points.
Both teams enter the new season with several returning stars and a few key question marks.
Miami forward Jimmy Butler averaged 21.4 points last year and nearly led his team to the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons. He remains as competitive as ever entering his 12th campaign.
“Every team in the league should want a guy like Jimmy Butler. That’s why we sought him so aggressively,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s why I wanted to coach him for so long, for so many years. Earlier in his career, I had coaching envy. His intensity level is always at a peak level.”
The Heat opens the season with a four-game homestand, beginning with a Chicago team minus injured point guard Lonzo Ball and resting All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine. LaVine (knee injury management) was ruled out Wednesday morning.
The Bulls returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2017, but they exited in the first round against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The All-Star duo of DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic remains formidable, but the supporting cast could create problems in the early going. LaVine said he could also miss Friday’s game at Washington.
Ball underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at the start of training camp, and his return date is unclear. Second-year guard point guard Ayo Dosunmu is expected to get the start in the season opener.
The matchup marks a return to Miami for Bulls point guard Goran Dragic, who spent six-and-a-half seasons with the Heat. Dragic will combine with Dosunmu and veteran Alex Caruso to fill the void left by Ball’s absence.
Chicago coach Billy Donovan is optimistic about Dosunmu, who played in 77 games last season while averaging 8.8 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds. He started in 40 of his 77 games played.
Donovan experimented with several starting lineups in the preseason before announcing on Tuesday that Patrick Williams will get the nod at power forward over Javonte Green in the opener.
Williams was limited to 17 games last season due to a severe wrist injury, creating an opportunity for Green. Both players will play prominent roles in Donovan’s rotation.
“I’m not that wrapped up in the starting part as much as how we’re subbing off the bench, who’s coming in next,” Donovan said. “It could be a situation where Patrick plays and we stagger him into the second unit and we get Javonte out there with the first unit.”
Miami could also have a new starting lineup with Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin joining Butler. Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo complete the starting five.
Herro received a four-year, $130 million extension after winning the league’s Sixth Man of the Year last season. This year, he’s eager to make his mark as a starter.
“I didn’t come into the league trying to be a bench player,” Herro said. “That’s just not who I am. I’m motivated to be one of the best players in the league at some point in my career, and I don’t think I can do it coming off the bench.”