Chicago Bulls Are Miami Heat's Greatest Threat to 2013 NBA Title
The issue here isn't who has a better chance to win a title. That distinction clearly goes to the Miami Heat. Nor is it about whether the Chicago Bulls can win a title. They can beat the Heat without winning it all.
It is simply that the Bulls are the team best situated to beat the Miami Heat in seven-game series.
Over the last six years, there has been an interesting trend. The team which beats the top seed doesn't end up winning the title. The last time a team beat the No. 1 seed and won the NBA title was 2006.
It's been more frequent for a team which emerges victorious from a seven-game series with their conference's top contender to lose in the next round.
Last year the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Bulls, but fell in the second round. The Oklahoma City Thunder toppled the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals, but fell to the Heat in the Finals. The Heat in the previous year sent the Bulls packing, but lost lost to the Dallas Mavericks, who possibly only made it that far because the Memphis Grizzlies knocked off the top-ranked San Antonio Spurs.
The last team to win the title and beat the top-seed in their respective conference was the 2006 Miami Heat, who beat the conference-best Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and went on to topple the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
The point here is to illustrate that beating the Heat and winning the championship are not the same thing. There are two teams who have a better shot at beating the Heat than winning the title, the Indiana Pacers and the Bulls.
For obvious reasons this excludes the entire Western Conference, as those teams, by simple math, cannot have a greater chance of beating the Heat than winning a title, since if they were to beat the Heat, they would win the title.
Since they could also end up playing another team out of the East (whatever possibility that is), they their chances of beating the Heat are correspondingly less than that of winning a title.
The Bulls and Pacers are two teams from the East best equipped to beat the Heat. To understand why we need to understand how the Heat win.
They use effective three point shooting from Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Ray Allen to spread the court, the highly effective jump shooting of Chris Bosh to open up driving lanes, and the historically proficient driving abilities of Dwayne Wade and LeBron James to create easy and efficient scoring opportunities.
While it's easier said than the done, the way to beat the Heat is not that complicated. Challenge their three-point shooters to take away the deep ball, mitigate Bosh, and seal off the perimeter to keep the Heat from being able to penetrate, turning James and Wade into jump shooters.
Wade is actually a poor jump shooter, with an effective field-goal percentage of just .407. LeBron James is much better, (and an underrated shooter) at .496, but you would rather see James being forced to beat you with his jump-shot instead of driving to the rim and dunking every play.
Joakim Noah of Chicago and Roy Hibbbert of Indiana are two of the best defensive centers in the NBA, so slowing down Bosh is not impossible for either team. That takes care of one aspect of the equation.
The Pacers are first in opponent's three-point percentage and the Bulls are third. That takes care of the second part of the equation.
This leaves us with the third part, sealing off the perimeter and forcing Wade and James into being jump-shooters.
The Pacers (.447) and Bulls (.466) are the two best defenses in the NBA in opponent's effective field goal percentage, and they are for the same reason. They use a highly cooperative, team-approach to defense, in which every player knows their assignments. Both teams effectively wall-off the perimeter and prevent penetration.
As a result, according to NBA.com//stats, the Pacers have given up the fewest field goals within five-feet of the rim, and the Bulls have given up the fourth fewest. The Pacers and Bulls are also first and third in forcing their opponents to take the most shots from the dreaded "mid-range" area where the shots are far less efficient.
The Heat are 7-10 when they shoot .471 or worse, compared to 30-4 when they shoot .471 or better. That includes all three of their games thus far against the Bulls and Pacers, games which they have been outscored by an average of 10 points per contest in.
The Heat also struggle when they are out-rebounded, particularly when they are forced into a bad shooting night. In games where they have the same or fewer rebounds, and held to less than .471 shooting, they are only 4-8.
The Pacers are first in rebound percentage and the Bulls are fourth. The Heat are only 19th.
The issue isn't whether Indiana or Chicago is better than the Heat. They aren't. But the myth that the better team always wins a series or game should have been long ago diffused. Too many middling teams in too many sports have won it all for that to be the case.
Even more teams have knocked off better teams.
Chicago and Indiana are well-situated to take on the Heat in a seven-game series as it is, but both teams are also getting back an essential player they have played without over the course of the season. The Pacers will be getting back Danny Granger, and the Bulls will be getting back Derrick Rose.
Both players represent the teams' leading scorers from the last two years. Were the two stars not returning, the Pacers would have the edge over the Bulls, but the Bulls get the nod over the Pacers because Derrick Rose is a significantly better addition than Granger.
While both teams are well-situated defensively, they both struggle offensively. Rose does a better job of improving the Bulls offense than Granger does with the Pacers. Granger is a good player, but he's not an MVP caliber player. Rose clearly is an MVP caliber player by virtue of the fact that he's actually won an MVP award.
Last year the Bulls were third in the NBA in offensive efficiency before Rose starting collecting injuries. While the Bulls still managed with Rose coming in and going out of the lineup, they were only the 10th best offense in the league for the duration of the season.
Furthermore, the Pacers have, to a degree, benefited from the absence of Granger as Paul George has emerged as an All-Star in the absence of Granger, arguably filling in the position better than Granger would have.
While both teams will have a positive impact from their returning stars, the Bulls should see more of an impact, enough to negate the nose by which the Pacers are currently ahead of Chicago.
This shouldn't be rendered as a pot-shot against the Pacers. Indiana surely has better than decent chance against the Heat, just not as good as the Bulls' chances.
The irony may be that if one team upsets the Heat in the second round, they could fall to the other in the Conference Finals, furthering the line of giant-killers who were slain for their victories.
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