Series Preview: Bulls-Heat
And now, for our feature presentation…
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
No matter what happens in the Western Conference between the Dallas Mavericks and the winner of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies, the Chicago Bulls v. the Miami Heat will be the series that everybody will be paying attention to, and the one that everybody has been waiting for. All year long, no two teams in the NBA have been the subject of such passionate debates from their respected fan bases and dissected down to the 12th man by the “experts.”
The question of who’s really the best team in the East and perhaps the entire League will finally be answered, beginning today, in a battle that should be etched in our collective basketball consciousness forever.
And once the smoke clears and the dust settles, no matter who wins, a new rivalry will almost assuredly be born between these two teams, one that hardcore basketball fans will come to appreciate, enjoy and look forward to for years to come. Simply stated, if you’re not excited about this matchup, then you don’t like basketball.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose v. Mario Chalmers
The Breakdown: The Chicago Bulls wouldn’t even be this far in this position if it weren’t for the play of Rose. He’s taken up a lot of the offensive slack due to the inconsistency of his teammates for two consecutive series now. Hopefully he won’t be tasked to have to try and do the same three straight times as the Heat just aren’t the kind of squad that you can do something like that against. Mario Chalmers should get the start in this series as Mike Bibby is just too long in the tooth to try and hang with DRose. Unlike Darren Collison and Jeff Teague before him, Chalmers is more jump shooter than player who penetrates and attacks the basket on every play. This should give Rose an easier time on defense than he’s had in the previous two series. Rose will also have an advantage over his counterpart if he doesn’t try and settle for the outside shot and instead just relentlessly attacks inside the paint. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t shoot from distance, but he has a definite physical and athletic advantage over Mario Chalmers. Chicago should look to exploit that on every possession.
Shooting Guard: Keith Bogans v. Dwyane Wade
The Breakdown: Bogans is a very capable defender with good size and lateral quickness to make it difficult for anybody that he’s guarding. But Dwyane Wade isn’t just anybody and Bogans is going to have his hands full with this matchup. Wade’s game, mostly predicated on slashing to the basket, is going to have Bogans expending a lot of energy on the defensive side of the ball. He’s not going to be able to stop Wade, but he can make him work for everything that he gets and when facing such an elite offensive talent like that, there’s really nothing else you can do.
Small Forward: Luol Deng v. LeBron James
The Breakdown: Deng has been playing great man-to-man defense all year, but like Bogans, he’s going to have his hands full with LeBron. Historically though, Deng has always seemed to match up very well with LBJ. Sure Bron is going to get his numbers, but if the regular season is any indicator, Deng will too. An increased defensive focus on Rose is going to leave Luol with plenty of wide open shots and driving lanes to the basket. All he has to do is take advantage of those opportunities and make the shots. From a pure talent and ability perspective this is a one-sided matchup, but don’t count out Deng who has consistently risen to the occasion when the pressure is the highest and who always seems to play well against Miami.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer v. Chris Bosh
The Breakdown: Both Bulls fans and Heat fans have to wonder which player will show up in this series. Will it be the guys who were paid handsomely last summer because of their ability to drop 20 and 10′s nightly, or the ones who have seemed to put up far less impressive stat lines in these Playoffs? Boozer has struggled mightily through the first two rounds so far, but in Games 5 and 6 against the Atlanta Hawks (Game 6 especially), he looked like the legitimate second option that Chicago needs him to be in order to take the offensive load from the shoulders of their young star. Bosh has been quietly solid for the Heat this postseason against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics, but he’s had a few games where he’s looked awful too. Both are jump shooting bigs but Boozer has the physical advantage that he absolutely must take advantage of as the smaller Bosh has a tendency to shrink when things get physical. This will be one of three key matchups in determining the outcome of this series.
Center: Joakim Noah vs Joel Anthony
The Breakdown: Both of these players are hustle, energy and effort guys. But make no mistake, Joakim Noah is the better player and it’s not even close. Anthony looked good against the Celtics—especially on defense—due to Boston’s lack of size on the interior, but that won’t be the case against Chicago. Noah is better in all facets of the game and should dominate this matchup with no problem. The issue however with Joakim has been consistency so far in these Playoffs, but make no mistake about it, he wants to beat the Miami Heat really bad so expect him to come out fired up for every game. This is the second matchup that will play a key role in this series.
Bench: Bulls vs Heat
The Breakdown: The combination of James, Wade and Bosh has carried Miami this far in the Playoffs. But against a good defensive team like the Bulls, the Heat will have to get some sort of consistent production from their bench to offset one or perhaps even two of their stars struggling on any given night. In 10 Playoff games so far, the Heat have had a bench player score in double figures three times—once against the Sixers and twice against the Celtics. The Bulls have gotten double figure scoring nights from the bench in six of their 11 postseason contests. While Chicago’s reserves have yet to play to the level that their capable of, from a pure talent perspective, they still hold a huge advantage over Miami at just about every position. Moreso than the aforementioned PF and C matchups, bench play will be the determining factor in whether or not Chicago can advance to the NBA Finals.
Series Prediction: The Heat have been on a roll and after dispatching the Celtics in 5 games, most have looked right past the Bulls and contend that Miami is now a lock to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in about a month. But in the words of Bulls broadcaster Stacey King, fans in Chicago have said “Hold on playa!” to those thinking the Heat are just going to dominate what many consider to be yet another inferior opponent. Chicago has been plagued by criticisms in their first and second round matchups with the Pacers and the Hawks, but the Bulls have been true to themselves and have been playing the same way all year. They haven’t dominated anybody, they’ve won ugly. It’s just the collective eyes of the basketball world have been so fixated on the Heat all season that they haven’t been paying attention to the Bulls and they think that Chicago is just a one man show. They’re not. The Bulls are for real and more than any other team that the Heat has faced so far, Chicago poses the most problems and are a legitimate and real threat to Miami’s “perceived” dominance. If the Heat wins this series, it certainly won’t be easy. But I don’t think they will…
Bulls win 4-3.