The 2023 NBA Playoffs are just around the corner, but some teams still need to battle for the final spots in the postseason. On Friday, the Chicago Bulls will travel to face the Miami Heat at the Kaseya Center in Florida. With hopes of clinching the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, Chicago will need everything it can get from its roster.
Fortunately for the Bulls, they have two All-Star-caliber players who could be extremely impactful in big games. Both DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine had big regular seasons and could be threats on Friday.
LaVine averaged 24.8 points, 4.5 boards, and 4.2 assists per game. He made 48.5 percent of his field goals, 37.5 percent of his 3-pointers, and 84.8 percent of his free throws.
DeRozan averaged 24.5 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game for Chicago during the regular season, which helped him earn the sixth All-Star selection of his career.
Against the Toronto Raptors in the Play-In Tournament, LaVine scored 30 out of his 39 points in the second half to overcome a 19-point deficit. DeRozan ended up adding 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting with seven boards, three assists, and two blocks.
While DeRozan and LaVine should be the main focus on offense, neither of them is known for their defensive skills. Because of that, the Bulls might need another player to take the extra step in this win-or-go-home contest.
With that being said, here is the Chicago Bulls' X-factor in the 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament versus the Miami Heat.
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Chicago Bulls' X-factor vs. Miami Heat: G/F Alex Caruso
The Bulls should have a tough time against the Heat on Friday. Miami will have its fans on its side plus multiple players who could score 20-plus points in the game.
During the 2022-23 season, Jimmy Butler averaged 22.9 points per game, his best mark since joining the franchise, while also grabbing 5.9 rebounds and handing out 5.3 assists per game. He also made a career-high 53.9% of his field goals.
Other players who could go off against the Bulls are Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry. In other words, Chicago will need to find a way to contain all of those scorers to stay alive in the game.
That is where Alex Caruso enters. The guard/forward just completed his second season with the franchise after playing only 41 games in 2021-22.
This season, he recorded 5.6 points, 2.9 assists, and 2.9 rebounds. He hit 45.5% of his field goals, 36.4% of his 3-pointers, and 80.8% of his free throws. While those numbers are not exactly eye-catching, his defensive abilities are worth noting.
Caruso averaged 1.5 steals and 0.7 blocks a night in the regular season. Against the Raptors in the Play-In, the Texas A&M product had three steals and blocked three shots.
Additionally, he led the team in plus/minus with +199. For comparison, DeRozan had +67, LaVine had only +18, and Nikola Vucevic failed to have a positive mark with -18.
Another thing that Caruso brings to the table is his versatility. He could guard multiple positions, so he should be comfortable with most matchups he will likely face against Miami. He could be Butler's primary defender but could also be a challenger to Adebayo close to the basket.
All things considered, Alex Caruso is the X-factor for the Bulls against the Heat on Friday. He is a defensive specialist who could guard Miami's main players throughout the entire night plus hit some 3-pointers. Also, since he has an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers under his belt, Caruso should be no stranger to big games. This makes him an intriguing player to keep an eye on during the Play-In Tournament.