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Can the Bulls overcome the Heat this time? Relive the Bulls' play-in loss to the Heat in 2023

This Heat team is "considerably different" than last season's

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It's a repeat scenario for the Bulls and Heat, who will play in the final play-in game for a shot at the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference first round.

Remember, the Heat ended the Bulls' season last year in the same situation, sending them home in the play-in to the tune of a 102-91 victory in South Beach. It's the same setup this season, but with key differences.

After defeating the Hawks on Wednesday to advance in the Eastern Conference play-in, Alex Caruso previewed the Bulls' next matchup against the Heat on Friday. Does Caruso believe in the revenge storyline, as the Bulls head to Miami in the same situation as last year's?

"Yeah, I guess," Caruso said Wednesday. "Different season, different teams. Their team is considerably different. Ours, we got a couple of new guys, but a lot of the same faces. Hopefully, we can use a little bit of that experience and go in, take care of business. We've played close games with them just about every year I've been here at their place. And we know what to expect."

MORE: Bulls-Heat: Who has edge in Play-In matchup?

Last year, the Heat stood in front of the Bulls for their shot at the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. In a do-or-die game in Miami --- just as it will be this Friday --- the Heat bested the Bulls to take the cake.

Two keys set the Heat apart from the Bulls: free throws and Max Strus.

The Heat shot a whopping 32 free throws, making 28 of them. The Bulls fouled the Heat 25 times, constantly sending them to the charity stripe, where the Heat took advantage.

Then the "Strus was loose," as they say. He knocked down seven 3-point shots while shooting 50% from the field. He finished with 31 points against his former team. Jimmy Butler also tacked on 31 points.

MORE: The ‘Strus is loose' against his former, hometown team

Outside the box score, the Heat's distinct, physical game helped them. Then, the Heat played at the second-slowest pace in the NBA (98), coupled with the ninth-best defensive efficiency rating (110.6). Their role players gave them a litany of scoring options outside the obvious Butler, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo.

"We know what they do," Ayo Dosunmu said Wednesday. "We know how they play, how physical they play. Both teams are hungry for a spot in the playoffs. Last year, we came up short. Now we have an opportunity one year later to play the same team in the same place. We're gonna embrace that, go out there and try and make it happen.

"Miami is one of those teams when you play them, you know what to expect. They play hard, they play physical. They don't quit. They always keep coming and bring energy."

What about this season? How are they different from last season?

As Caruso said, they're "considerably different." Simply from a roster turnover standpoint, the Heat are much different. They lost Strus, Kyle Lowry (midseason trade/buyout), Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent --- all of whom were significant role players, especially with their abilities to shoot from 3-point range.

Of course, they picked up players to supplement the losses, including Jaime Jacquez Jr., Terry Rozier, Thomas Bryant and Delon Wright. But they're still a different team. They shoot less from the perimeter. But their defense got better, finishing with the league's fifth-best defensive rating.

The Heat have been a close matchup for the Bulls in recent history. This season, they split their season series 2-2. And in the play-in last season, they scraped by with an 11-point victory that saw them earn that margin with a 15-1 run at the end of the game.

One significant difference this year, too, is the health of each team.

Butler, Rozier and Josh Richardson will not play on Friday. This development places the Heat at a considerable disadvantage without Butler, who Caruso described as "the snakehead" and the "heart" of this Heat team.

Without Butler, the Heat are a different team, especially on the offensive end.

The Bulls aren't healthy, either. They're without Zach LaVine and Patrick Williams, who each underwent season-ending surgery earlier this season. Caruso is questionable for Friday's game, but appears likely to play. Drummond and Dosunmu are both not 100% either, but likely to play.

But different from the Heat, the Bulls arguably have the depth and better "next man up" mentality --- the X-factor the Heat held over the Bulls' head last season.

"I think that's one of our great strengths is that we've got guys that can go any given night," Caruso said.

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