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2011 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat

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In what can be seen as a changing of the guard of sorts, the Bulls meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals for the right to play for the Larry O’Brien trophy. Basketball fans not in Miami seem to be united against the Heat, but Vegas set Miami as the favorite to win the series. It isn’t quite a battle of good vs. evil, but the Heat are definitely beginning to relish their role as villains.

The Bulls got here by dispatching a game Hawks team in 6 games, while the Heat seemingly felt as if they already won the NBA title with the way they celebrated their series victory over the Celtics. I’m not saying the Heat celebration for not accomplishing a whole lot was over the top, but the Gramatica brothers were embarrassed by it. How do I think this series will play out? I suppose that’s why you are reading this article, so let’s get to it.

It’s no secret that the Heat have about as much depth as a Jennifer Aniston film and are a poor rebounding team. Fortunately for Miami they have two of the best basketball players on the planet in LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Aside from that, Chris Bosh can play, not anywhere at a level commensurate with his salary, but he’s solid, everyone else? Not so much. The Bulls themselves aren’t the deepest team in the world, but they have 3-4 solid contibutors around their big three: MVP Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, & Luol Deng. Will that be enough to take out the Big 2 + Bosh? My heart says yes… my head… also says yes, provided Boozer avoids being choke-slammed by Wade and remains healthy.

The Bulls took the season series from the Heat 3-0. That really doesn’t have a lot of bearing on how this series will play out, but one thing apparent in those games were how the Bulls won them. They were all close, but in each game the Bulls frustrated the Heat and stopped them from getting it done in crunch time. Aside from depth and lack of interior size, another key question about the Heat is who is going to take the last shot? LeBron or Wade? LeBron is not a true closer but Wade seems to defer to him more often than not, that recipe could spell doom for the Heat when it matters most.

The other issue for the Heat is who will guard Derrick Rose? Bibby and Chalmers have no chance of stopping him so my guess is Wade gets the nod. Running around with Rose for 40+ minutes will not be easy. Add to that Wade will also have to contend with the tough defense of Keith Bogans on the other end and he may be out of gas late. A lot of experts are picking the Heat on the basis that they will be able to defend the Bulls. Count me in the group that doesn’t see that happening. As mentioned, Bibby or Chalmers can’t stop Rose… in reality they probably couldn’t stop Alex Trebek in the half court. Wade can play D, but LeBron gets far too much credit than he deserves. He is average-at-best on ball, but gambles on the passing lanes which inflates his steal totals

LeBron is obviously a superior basketball player than his Luol Deng but it’s closer than you think. Deng has the size and strength to stand toe-to-toe with LeBron. When bodied up, LeBron tends to settle for jumpers and Deng’s long arms will mean that even those will be contested.

The real Bulls advantage lies on the interior. Joel Anthony probably wouldn’t be a starter for 25 teams in the NBA but he is on the Heat. Joakim Noah should have his way on the inside with him. At the 4, Boozer is better than Bosh, but it will be interesting to see how the Bulls play this one. They could do to Bosh what the Hawks did against the Magic when they let Dwight Howard more or less do what he wanted, while locking down the rest of the offense. It’s a risky strategy, but Bosh, at times, has been vocal about wanting the ball more. If he has a good game or two, he may start getting a little big in his britches and sabotage the entire system.

From a coaching standpoint I’ll take Tom Thibodeau because of his work ethic and basketball IQ. Both coaches are inexperienced at this stage of the game, but Thibodeau has the complete buy-in and trust of his players… Spoelstra on the other hand looks like Art Shell on the sidelines realizing that he called one play and the players just ignored it.

This has the makings of a long series, but with the way that the Bulls will control the glass and d-up on the Heat, I give them the nod over a Miami team that already celebrated their NBA championship last series. This should be a scary proposition for the Heat, they have no cap room and no draft picks for the next decade or so; what you see is what you get… and if what you get is a 3rd round exit to a team that’s younger than you, Dan Gilbert may very well be right that Cleveland will win a title before LeBron.

Bulls in 6

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