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The Match Up:
Bulls V.S. Heat. Rose V.S. James. Blue collar V.S. Superstardom. High Rises V.S. Beaches. Every weather element under the sun V.S. 80 degrees and sunny. The Magnificent Mile and Michigan Avenue V.S. Biscayne Bay and South Beach. MVP V.S. MVP's. Legend V.S. Legacy.
Two years ago the Bulls and Heat squared off for what should have been an epic seven-game battle, but ended when the Heat rolled to a 4-1 beat-down, en route to LeBron's second NBA Finals. Last year, the two teams were destined to meet again until Derrick Rose fell to an ACL tear. Miami went on to roll through the Knicks, Pacers, Celtics, and Thunder to en route to an NBA Championship, LeBron's first.
Now, two years in the making, we finally get to see "The Rematch." For Miamians, this is simply just another road block to get LBJ his second ring, Wade his 3rd, and the Heat their second consecutive. For Chicagoans, this is much more than a basketball series. This is about Pride V.S. Pride, Cities V.S. Cities (who couldn't be any different against each other), character (the blue-collar worker) V.S. character (the flashy beach-living "superstar"), and History V.S. Present Day. No one loves Michael Jordan more than the city of Chicago - so why let LeBron inch any closer to MJ? Whether or not you believe in anything I just said - there is some truth to it.
I'm torn in this series - I was born and raised in Chicago, but lived in Florida for many years and grew up a Heat fan. This is absolutely about pride for both sides. Bulls fans want to see Derrick Rose get the Bulls back to the NBA Finals, and legitimize him as one of the best in the game. Heat fans love Dwyane Wade more than any player to ever throw on a Heat uniform (yes, even more than Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning), so it's fitting to start in the front court - where we're going to see Wade and Rose go toe to to offensively. Rose has the advantage, clearly, but if the Heat do what they did two years ago and rotate LeBron over on defense to have Derrick Rose duty - this series could end just as quickly as it did two years ago. Don't forget Ray Allen coming off the bench for Miami, but watch out for Rip Hamilton and Kirk Heinrich for the Bulls - they could be the difference makers if Wade isn't playing like MVP Wade.
Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah need to play the series of their life. I think I've said that before, but it bears repeating. Boozer can't continue to be a liability on defense, and Noah needs to establish his presence within the first few minutes of the series against Chris Bosh and LeBron James. James will likely camp down in the post, so the Bulls should put Luol Deng on him and keep Noah there to clog the lanes. I hate to be so disrespectful to Boozer, but if he's played anything like he's played in the past playoffs on defense, it's 5 on 4 out there. Miami will do what they always do and play the match-up game. LeBron on Rose, Wade on Rip Hamilton or Luol Deng, Bosh with Noah (they'd like to get that Bosh-Boozer match-up, but the Bulls won't let that happen), Battier on Boozer, and Ray Allen or Chalmers or Cole (whoever happens to be on the court at that given moment) against whoever else trots out there for the Bulls. Also, it should be mentioned this isn't 2011 again, Miami actually has a bench and it may be better than Chicago's. The Bulls lost a ton of firepower from the bench in the last two seasons - particularly Omer Asik, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer.
Game 1 in Miami: Miami is focused. They're 8-3 in the playoffs and well-rested having wrapped up their series with the Nets in 6 games. The Bulls are tired - they've had back-to-back seven-game series, and now have to go into Miami to open the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat cruise to a Game 1 victory, 109-93. Heat win, up 1-0.
Game 2 in Miami: It certainly seems the Heat are far-and-away better than the Bulls, at least in the first two games. Chicago can't seem to get the right match-ups, and it goes from bad to worse as Miami takes advantage and comes away with another blowout victory. Heat win, up 2-0.
Game 3 in Chicago: Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibadeau is upset. His team is in trouble. He can't seem to find a hole to exploit in the Heat's lineup - until Game 3. Chicago out-plays Miami at home by out-scoring them in the "hustle stats" - rebounds. The Bulls have new life and grab a home victory. Bulls win, Heat up 2-1.
Game 4 in Chicago: "Let's not allow the Heat to take one from us at home," is the Bulls' mentality. They shell-shock the Heat 99-86 and tie the series going into ... you guess it ... Game 5. Bulls win, series tied at 2.
Game 5 in Miami: One thing that has been established in roughly the last 380 days is LeBron James no longer fears the big moment. Game 6 in Boston proved that, his Finals performance against the Thunder proved that, his performance against the Nets last round proved that, and now his Game 5 performance against the Bulls proves it again. I imagine a stat line that goes something like this: 56 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks. Heat win 100-89. Heat win, up 3-2.
Game 6 in Chicago: The Bulls have been through a lot since last losing to the Heat in the 2011 playoffs. They blew up the famed "Bench Mob," lost their star for nearly 11 months, battled back to the playoffs and came within two games of the NBA Finals. After putting up a huge fight in Game 6 at home, Chicago falls to the Miami Heat 99-97. Heat win, take series 4-2.