Chicago Bulls: Do They Have Enough to Get Past the Miami Heat This Year?

Todd ThorstensonAnalyst IFebruary 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Derrick Rose #1 (L) talks with teammate Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago BuJoakim NDerrick Rose (R) during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on January 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls currently maintain the best record in the Eastern Conference and are only percentage points behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the NBA.

However, they had the best regular-season record in the league last year but were unable to get past the three-headed monster of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

As we sit at about one-third of the way through this shortened 66-game NBA season, it appears that once again, these two teams are the class of the Eastern Conference and probably of the entire league.

So barring any unforeseen circumstances, it's probably fair to expect to see them both battling each other for the right to reach the NBA Finals yet again.

The question now is, do the Bulls have enough to get past the Heat this time around?

Well, we recently got a preview of what we might again see in late May as the Heat outlasted the Bulls 97-93 in Miami last weekend.

Contrary to what many players were saying prior to that contest, it was anything but just another regular-season game.  In fact, it had the same feel and drama as most of the games in last year's conference finals.

And just like many of those games, this game came right down to the wire, but when push came to shove, the Heat found a way to win, and the Bulls were left questioning themselves.

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 29:  Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls is guarded by LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on January 29, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
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So, how is this year any different than last?

Well, the Bulls did add Rip Hamilton, which if he ever gets healthy will make a big difference as he gives the Bulls another scoring option.  He's obviously not Dwayne Wade at this point in his career, but he is still dangerous enough that whoever is guarding him can't help on Rose.

Hamilton is the only change the Bulls made in the offseason other than signing rookie Jimmy Butler, but is it enough?

Now it's no secret that the Heat have the best starting five in the league with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh anchoring the lineup, but how does the rest of the squad stack up against the Bulls?

Chicago has arguably the best bench in the league with a second five that features C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik.  And while Miami's bench isn't great, they did add Shane Battier in the offseason to bolster their second team.

So, it would seem that Miami still holds a slight advantage over the Bulls just based on their star power, but that doesn't mean the Bulls can't beat them in a seven-game series this time around.

A big key for the Bulls is to get healthy by the end of the regular season so that they are at full strength going into the playoffs.

They have been without starting small forward Luol Deng for a couple of weeks now, which certainly makes a difference.  Deng was having an All-Star caliber season prior to injuring his left wrist and definitely makes the Bulls a different team.  He's not only another scoring option but is a tough defender.

The Bulls are currently in the midst of their longest road trip of the season and have been without Deng and Hamilton for most of it.  In addition, they were missing the league MVP, Derrick Rose, for five games recently, but despite all of this, they still have been able to fight through it with the best record in the east—thanks in large part to that stellar bench.

This tells you a lot about this team and their toughness.

There's no doubt they've had some tough games along they way, such as their recent loss to a good Philadelphia team, but they always seem to be able to bounce back.

Coach Tom Thibodeau recently said, "I love the resiliency of our team, the resolve of our team, the bounce-back ability of the team."

And this may be the biggest advantage the Bulls have over the Heat—toughness and resiliency.

The Bulls will have several more home games than road games during the second half of the season and will hopefully get healthy as well, which bodes well for their chances of again finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference and maintaining the home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Some people believe that the Bulls need to add another piece in order to surpass the Heat, but that might not be the case.

If they get healthy, they may be just fine.

At this point, it remains to be seen if the Bulls or the Heat will make any changes to their rosters in the coming weeks, but a few things are certain—they both expect to see each other in the playoffs, and they both know it will be a battle no matter what.

It should be interesting to see which team will be left standing this year.