Saturday, May 14, 2011

Round 3: Bulls vs. Heat Preview

Hey, look. It's another Bulls-Heat face-off again. This should be fun and physical.

Remember when MJ used to own Miami in the 90's? Remember when the battle for Derrick Rose came down to Chicago and Miami in the 2008 draft lottery? Remember those hard fought physical 1st round playoff match-ups in 05-06 and 06-07? Remember Dwyane Wade's classic steal and game winner against the Bulls 2 years ago? Remember when the Bulls and the Heat battled in the 2010 free agency, only to find out Miami would eventually snatch all of the Bulls' top 3 targets in LeBron, Dwyane, and Chris? Remember when Chicago sneaked out 3 impressive wins against Miami and beat them out for the top spot in the East and the whole league during this past season?

Well, this ECF match-up will pretty much make it to that list soon.

Miami, judging by its current play, is a much better team than the one who showed up back in the regular season. It seems that they're peaking at the right time. The Heat might've lost to the Bulls in three straight occasions back in the season, but that doesn't really mean much. All three contests came down to the wire. The results weren't set in stone until the final possessions, and yes -- it happened in all of those three games. That's how close the season series went. Remember, back in the Heat's semis date against the Celtics, Boston won the season match-up 3-1. The Heat eventually won the playoff match-up, 4-1.

LeBron didn't play in Miami's first visit to Chicago. Chris Bosh also got injured in the 4th quarter of that game and didn't play down the stretch in the closing moments. Despite all that, Dwyane Wade almost single-handedly willed the Heat to a win with a barrage of spectacular 3-pointers, only to fall short in the end due to a dagger from Kyle Korver. The Bulls were too much for D-Wade to handle. To be fair, Joakim Noah also didn't play. So both teams weren't geared up that well.

The Heat's 2nd date with the Bulls also happened in Chicago. LeBron, by that time, was good to play. The Heat had the lead majority of the game before a late Chicago rally. Just when we thought the Bulls will steal the game, Miami made one final surge, only to come up short eventually -- as Luol Deng made the game winning 3. Chris Bosh shot 1-18 (yes, that's not a typo) -- ONE OUT OF FREAKING EIGHTEEN. Odds of that happening again? Uh, not that high.

The last meeting between the two ball-clubs was another epic down-to-the-wire type of game. Miami, during that stretch, were struggling mightily and were scrutinized badly by the media and basketball fans for struggling to close games out. Their swag was shattered. Unfortunately, that trend continued in this game for LeBron and company, and the Bulls escaped South Beach with a crucial win that solidified their positioning atop the conference.

To sum up the season series, it's arguable that Chicago got luckier than the Heat. Generally, as a basketball fan, I hate making excuses. Excuses are only suited for Laker fans. So I tip my hat to the Bulls for going 3-0 on us. They went undefeated for a reason. Now, it's the perfect time for the boys down in South Beach to get the last laugh. It's payback time for the Heat. Hopefully, Miami can seek revenge and outlast Chicago just like what they did against Boston.

To repeat, the Heat have been playing arguably the best basketball than the other remaining teams left in the chase for the hardware. They're peaking at the right time. There's no doubt that they are playing way better than the Bulls so far in the playoffs. The Heat had a difficult time with Philly even though they won it 4-1. Same could be said for the Boston series. It was closer than what the final numbers indicated. Despite all that, it's impressive that the Heat have shown flashes of their true championship potential. Now's a good time to even show more of that potential and beat the Bulls.

The Heat are more experienced than the Bulls. Dwyane's been there. LeBron's been there. Even Erik Spoelstra, as an assistant, has been there. That's definitely an edge in Miami's favor.


Will coaching be a problem for the Heat? After all, coach Spo will be facing the reigning coach of the year for this round. Coach Thibs has been known as the Celtics' ex-blueprint defense master. I definitely think coaching is an edge for the Bulls. Spoelstra needs to make the necessary adjustments and stop being hard headed with his robotic sub patterns and rotations.

Does Miami prefer to lock down Derrick Rose completely and just let his other teammates score? Or will they try to do otherwise and limit his teammates but let him do all the work? That would be one thing that we should all definitely look forward to. Your move, coach Spo!

Miami can put D-Wade on D-Rose and let Bibby guard Bogans. That may tire Wade a bit, but that's one of Miami's best options if they want to win. Another option would be putting Chalmers on Rose and just putting Wade on the "MVP" during crunchtime.

The Bulls' bench beats the Heat's by a ton, no question. It can be really dangerous when guys such as Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, CJ Watson can explode anytime. They also have a nice backup big man in Omer Asik. Miami has Joel Anthony to counter. Not too shabby.

Can Ronnie Brewer contain Dwyane Wade? Can Luol Deng limit LeBron James? Can Joakim Noah bother Chris Bosh? After all, Chicago has a reputation of being one of the best defensive teams in the league today. They have many weapons that can be used to stop the opposing squad. To Miami's credit, they're just right behind Chicago. This is a battle of two great defensive teams. Whenever the Heat is clicking on both sides, especially defensively turning it up to a high notch, you need to go home. That's what's scary about this team. They can lock you down entirely anytime on defense, and im sure Chicago's hoping they could avoid seeing that happen as much as possible. On the other hand, if the Bulls play lockdown D in or out and play physical, that might just be enough to outlast Miami's big three headed monster.

This would definitely be Miami's most difficult challenge so far in their championship quest. One can say that the Philly team was too young and the Boston squad was too old and banged up. Chicago, though, hasn't exactly been that scary so far in the post-season until Game 6 came against the Hawks. If that version of the Bulls team shows up, we have a series and there's a good chance Chicago will dominate. Otherwise, Miami's talent might just be too much for the Bulls as they can be exposed lacking enough legit support to help Derrick Rose down the line in a much higher level of competition. I actually think this Bulls team has some similarities to LeBron's previous Cavs teams back then. Great in the regular season, but not enough firepower in the post-season. Let's see if they can show me otherwise.

To me, I feel that the Bulls still have another higher gear in them. While the Heat have shown us spectacular playoff basketball, I also feel that we haven't seen their best yet, themselves. Miami needs to maintain this type of play and build on from there and shift it to an even higher level if they want a trip to the NBA Finals. We havent' seen the best of Chris Bosh, yet. Now's the perfect time for him to explode and prove all the doubters wrong against the not-so-good-defensively Carlos Boozer. Bosh needs to grab the opportunity and take advantage of it now that Kevin Garnett's out of his sight. No more 1-18, please. The Bulls were very disappointing in the Pacers and Hawks series. Many people expected better. Was that only a fluke? Or are they really being exposed in the playoffs, showing their true colors?

Miami also has more starpower than Chicago even if the Heat has a crappier bench, so that's another edge for the Heat. Sometimes, the talent and presence of star players are too much to overcome. Most media members are going with the safe pick by siding with the Heat for this round. I can't fault them as Derrick Rose, at times, even in this year's playoffs, has been a one-man show for Chicago, failing to get playoff-type production from his teammates. That's not enough if you're serious of going deeper into the brackets if you ask me. Like I said earlier, expect the Bulls bench to murder the Heat's. They should take advantage of it. I find it really hard to understand why Chicago lacks support for Rose when they got a really nice bench. Maybe they're really not good enough for the big stage just yet.

As a Heat fan, i'm very concerned with Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, and Luol Deng. Maybe even Keith Bogans too. Bogans and Deng will get their fair share of open looks and they can make you pay. Gibson and Korver can get on fire anytime and they can kill you with an array of jumpshots. That's why Miami's role players need to step up themselves and provide a lift. No let downs!

The Bulls' bigs are way better. Their defense and rebounding are magnificent. Expect Miami to get crushed on the boards. The Heat need to avoid that and put up a respectable fight, at least. Miami also needs to limit Chicago in second chance points. This will be a very physical series. Miami needs to secure the paint against Rose just as Chicago against LeBron and D-Wade.

Miami, bottomline, can't just rely on LeBron and Wade alone. They need a great outing from Chris Bosh and the others for this series. Personally, one major deciding factor would be the Bosh vs. Boozer debate. Whoever plays better between the two of them will decide which team wins - in my opinion.

The Heat need an offensive spark from James Jones, Mario Chalmers, Eddie House and heck, even Mike Miller. They would be glad if they can get anything from them. Joel Anthony is also a huge factor for the Heat. His shotblocking presence would be welcomed in stopping Derrick Rose driving to the rim. I'm also expecting Erick Dampier back in this series, but you never know as long as Spoelstra is your coach. And Dampier hasnt' been exactly that good in the previous Bulls games. His conditioning is a question mark too.

The way I see it, the Bulls are hungrier between the two teams. I just think they have give and show more effort than Miami. They're the best NBA team in the league for a season. And this is no knock on the Heatles

Miami has a bad habit of coasting and chilling. Against the Sixers, it might've work since they can just out-talent them. Against the Celtics, it also might've work since they're younger. Against the Bulls, that's a no-no. Chicago can come back from any deficit any time as they have way too many weapons and a deadly weapon in D-Rose. Having shooters such as Kyle Korver and Luol Deng combined with the MVP play of Rose helps the case, That's why they're a scary team. Chicago grinds for full 48 minutes. Not sure I could say the same about the Heat, even though I love them.

Miami also starts slow. It's typical for Heat opponents to own early 11-2 leads or so. They need to avoid that and look to dominate from tip-off til the final buzzer. I love how Miami responded to opposing runs so far. They haven't lost their composure everytime they faced a deficit be it against the Sixers or Celtics. They need to do the same against the Bulls.

Between D-Rose, D-Wade, and LeBron -- expect free throws. A LOT OF THEM. During Miami's closing game vs. Boston, free throws almost cost them. The Heat needs to convert on a high clip of their free throws.

Heat could also strategically put LeBron @ the 4 and let him play power forward. He should have no problem matching up. The Wade and LeBron pick and roll is deadly, especially when LeBron plays the 4 spot.

Homecourt is huge. The Bulls need to take advantage of it, while the Heat needs to steal at least ONE of the first two. A lot of pressure will be on Miami if they ever go down 0-2. They haven't trailed any series so far in the playoffs.

Despite having homecourt and a 3-0 season series lead, the Bulls are still the underdogs, huh?


To wrap things up: I'm picking the Bulls to win in 6. I don't think Miami has what it takes to defeat the forces of the unstoppable MVP Derrick Rose, the team's ultimate passion and will to win, the executive of the year Gar Forman, and the master plots of coach of the year Tom Thibodeau. My heart still says Heat in 6, though. Again Heat fans, don't be disappointed with me. If you know me well and have followed my predictions and pieces earlier, you would understand why and know why I picked Chicago in 6. I did pick Boston in 6 the previous time around. Look how that ended up I would gladly be happy if Miami can prove me wrong and defeat the Bulls, though!

Should be a heck of a series!

Game 1 begins Sunday at Chicago with an 8 PM ET start, exclusively on TNT.

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