NBA Play-In: Bulls-Heat Preview, Props & Prediction

Instead of counting on Jimmy Butler to lead the team into the postseason, the Miami Heat will be in full collective-effort mode when they host the Chicago Bulls on Friday night in the loser-goes-home play-in game.

Butler will sit out with a sprained MCL in his right knee that was sustained during Wednesday’s 105-104 road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.


The Heat are anywhere from 1.5- to 2.5-point favorites at most sportsbooks despite Butler’s absence. The line has held steady at 2.5 at BetMGM, where the money has been nearly split with Miami backed by 52 percent.

However, the Heat’s +110 moneyline has been a clear favorite, drawing 74 percent of the money since opening at +115.

The consensus Over/Under is 205.5 points on Friday. The Over has been backed by 80 percent of the bets and 79 percent of the money at BetMGM.


DeMar DeRozan Over 26.5 Points (-120 at BetMGM): The under on this prop has actually been the most popular player prop at the book for this matchup. The Bulls guard is averaging 24.0 points per game on the season. When the teams last met with two games in a three-day stretch in Miami in December, DeRozan poured in 27 and 23 points. DeRozan averaged 34.3 points over the final three regular-season games before scoring 22 in Wednesday’s 131-116 win over Atlanta.


The teams split four previous meetings this season and while Miami has the home-court advantage, the news that Butler may be done for the season has to weigh heavily on the Heat. It also opens the door for the Bulls to sneak out of South Florida with a hard-fought win. Prediction: Bulls 104, Heat 102


Butler underwent an MRI exam Thursday that determined the severity. It is possible that Butler has played his final game of the 2023-24 season, whether or not the Heat win the pivotal game against Chicago.

“It felt like I couldn’t do too much, which sucks with the timing of the game and everything,” Butler said after the Philadelphia game. “I hope that I’m fine. … Right now, I can’t say that’s the case.”

Butler was injured in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game and remained in the contest. He finished with 19 points but was just 5-of-18 shooting.

His lack of effectiveness was noticeable in the second half. Butler took just two shots — making one — in the final quarter.

“I wasn’t able to do anything on either side of the ball,” Butler said. “I think I hurt us more than I helped us, actually.”

Miami guard Terry Rozier (neck) also has been ruled out of Friday’s game. This will be his sixth straight missed game.

Bulls guard Alex Caruso is questionable with a sprained left ankle. He sustained the injury when teammate Andre Drummond was running up the court and stepped on his ankle. Drummond (left ankle) and Ayo Dosunmu (quadricep) also are questionable and played Wednesday despite their injuries.


The Heat also will need better efforts from Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo against the Bulls. Herro scored 25 points against Philadelphia but made just nine of 27 shots. Adebayo had just 10 points but did collect 12 rebounds.

The loss to the 76ers leaves Miami in a similar position as last season when the Heat lost their first play-in game (to Atlanta) before beating Chicago 102-91 in the second contest to reach the playoffs. The Heat eventually advanced to the NBA Finals before losing to the Denver Nuggets.

Miami finished with a 15-1 burst to overcome the Bulls last season.

“I remember that plane ride back home vividly,” DeRozan said. “Everybody was just frustrated. That feeling sucked. I know for me, that’s one thing that’s on my mind once I realized we were going back to Miami — to not have that same feeling.”

Against the Hawks on Wednesday, Coby White poured in 42 points — a career best, though the game won’t count toward official statkeeping — to lead the way.

White also is fueled by last season’s loss and remembered the highly contested games between the teams this season.

“It’s going to be a junkyard fight, a dogfight,” White said. “We know Miami, they know us. … We have to come in ready to compete and leave it all on the floor.”


Caruso is expecting his club to be ready for the task Friday night.

“We’ve got guys on the team when the lights come on and they are bright, they step up to the challenge,” he said. “I’ve had moments like that in my career; DeMar countless numbers. (Nikola Vucevic) has played playoff basketball.”

“I think that’s one of great strengths that we do have guys who can go off any given night. Coby’s put in the work. It’s not surprising for us because we know how good he can be and that’s how confident we want him to play all the time.”


The winner of the Miami-Chicago game advances to play the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.