With the Miami Heat closing in on history, one big question lingers—can anyone stop them? The Heat have LeBron James, the best NBA’s best player who will almost assuredly capture his fourth MVP trophy. LeBron along with Dwyane Wade make up one of the greatest tandems in the history of the game. This is in addition to a win streak of 25 games and counting.
While many people are looking for a team to end Miami’s hot streak, will a team emerge to challenge the Heat in a seven-game series?
The NBA’s regular season is a precursor for things to come. Potential Western Conference opponents are jockeying for playoff positioning. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the perceived front-runners. Following them are the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets.
Each team has what it takes to make a series versus the Heat an entertaining one.
Aside from the Indiana Pacers, several observers envision the Eastern Conference as a cakewalk for LeBron, Wade and Co.
Do not gift-wrap the conference just yet. The Chicago Bulls have a defensive duo capable of becoming the ice water that douses the Heat.
The combination of Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler can make it tough for LeBron and Wade. Deng and Butler are the perfect mixture of size and athleticism. They can chase both LeBron and Wade around the court to make things interesting.
Before you get antsy, we must come to terms that no one can stop LeBron.
Defenders can slow him down, make him work for his shot and get physical with him. LeBron will continue to put up his usual statistics. If he tires out, once his breath and legs get heavy, the shots will not fall with ease.
How can the Bulls’ Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler make this happen?
Normally, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would have Deng guard LeBron from wire to wire. This is a terrible strategy. Deng will burn out fast, thus not have enough to challenge LeBron when the Bulls have the ball.
Thibodeau must go to Butler on LeBron early.
In the past, Butler would enter the game near the end of the first quarter or right at the start of the second. Putting Butler in the game at the five-minute mark helps the Bulls in two ways.
Bringing Butler in early will give Deng a quick blow.
Few players in the NBA can guard LeBron for any time during a game. Deng does it for at least 35 minutes a game. Taking him out early, a few minutes before the second quarter, will allow him to rest between periods. He can begin the second quarter fresh and ready to focus on offense while LeBron rests.
Butler playing sooner rather than later might also cause LeBron to change his strategy regarding scoring.
Deng is the strongest of the two Bulls perimeter defenders. Butler has more length. LeBron would have to beat Butler off the dribble, as Butler is more of a face guarder. This method of defense will force LeBron to take the ball inside where the Bulls have a clear advantage.
Alternating Deng and Butler on LeBron is the best recipe to slow down the onslaught.
Guarding Wade is a lot different from his counterpart. Ball hawkers are often embarrassed when they attempt to slow him down. Bigger players are often not fast enough to stay in front of him. The Bulls must follow the blueprint of the Boston Celtics duo of Avery Bradley and Paul Pierce.
Bradley and Pierce make life on the court hell for Wade. They offer two contrasting styles.
Both players resemble the aforementioned defenders that Wade punishes—the alterations on how they sentry him works.
Take Bradley, for instance. Instead of looking to steal the ball from Wade’s hands, he looks to defend the pass. By getting close to Wade and taking away his passing options, Bradley allows Wade one choice—put the ball on the floor and shoot. This takes LeBron out of the equation.
Butler must emulate this for the Bulls.
He has considerable hand speed. His 6’7” frame would not only eliminate Wade’s passing lanes, he can force turnovers also.
When the Celtics assign Pierce the job of slowing Wade down, he does not get close to him. If he does, Wade can use his speed to drive past him. Instead, Pierce gives Wade about a foot of space. Pierce will then keep one of his arms at Wade’s chest to ward him off. The other arm sticks outwardly, free to deflect a pass.
Deng can do the exact same thing if he defends Wade. He has a great grasp on how to alter a pass. Moreover, Deng’s arms are longer than Pierce’s. He can obstruct more of Wade’s view.
The Chicago Bulls have a defensive-minded duo that can thwart James and Wade. By following this template, they will have success.