With their resilient win in Game 7 versus the Brooklyn Nets, the Chicago Bulls advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs to play their longtime nemesis. Not only did the Bulls show how hard-nosed they were but they proved to be a force to be reckoned with.
On top of missing their best player, they lost the services of Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng to a calf injury, and meningitis respectively. By defeating the Nets, the Bulls continued to show that they are a team that will defy the odds.
How do they stack up against the Heat?
Joakim Noah spoke about playing the Heat (courtesy of ESPNChicago.com) just shortly after outlasting the Nets.
I'm very excited. Obviously, they're the best. You want to play against the best.
It's going to be ... I mean, this is what it's all about, playing against the defending champs. It's going to be a war.
The first question that must be answered is will Derrick Rose returned to the basketball court. If Rose does return it changes everything for the Bulls. It would give them a go-to player during the clutch stretches of the series.
This will also have an effect on how the Heat defend the Bulls.
Two Unlikely Heroes
With Rose out, the Bulls have had to rely on other players to step up their games. This meant an emergence of some unsung heroes; most notably Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli.
Both players were originally signed to replace former Bulls’ backups that were not retained due to salary-cap constraints.
Nate Robinson was slated to be Hinrich's primary backup until Rose was to return. His role was originally supposed to be small. Instead, he has led the Bulls to several victories.
Despite his diminutive size, Robinson is listed at 5'9", he plays as if he's 6'5" tall. With so much heart and determination, putting the Bulls on his back has become an easy task. Many people may argue that Robinson's shot selection is not the greatest at times, but all it takes is a few good shots in order to pull out a team to victory.
Take away Robinson's poor shot selection, while adding his ability to make and create shots for others, you have an element that the Bulls have lacked for quite some time. Last season, the knock on this team was the lack of ball-handling and a player besides Derrick Rose who can create his own shot. Robinson provides them both.
He is not alone.
The signing of Belinelli was an afterthought, something that fell on deaf ears. Belinelli declared that his game was more complete than the player he replaced, Kyle Korver. The new shooting Bull told anyone who would listen that not only was he a better shooter than Korver, but he was better with the ball and he can get his own shot.
The biggest knock on Belinelli coming into the season was his defense. On that end of the floor, Belinelli was slow-footed and often caught out of position. Not only did Belinelli prove that he would be valuable to the Bulls with his offensive game, his defense got better as the season progressed.
There have also been times when Belinelli has had to take on the point guard duties and run the offense. When that has happened, the ball has moved well. Each player on the floor becomes a part of the offense while keeping opposing defenses guessing on who is going to take the shot.
Belinelli, much like Robinson, has given the Bulls an additional weapon; another with the capability to make his shot and get other player shots as well.
The emergence of Robinson and Belinelli give the Bulls a two-headed monster in the backcourt that the Miami Heat will have to defend. If both of them can make their shots in this next series versus the Heat, they have the chance to not only push the defending champions but defeat them.
Size Advantage: Bulls
Chris Bosh, the Heat's best frontcourt player will be looked upon to grab rebounds and defend the post. He along with Udonis Haslem and former Denver Nugget castoff Chris Andersen will be charged with the task of keeping Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer off the boards.
"That is the sixth block of the game for Joakim Noah, that's a career high." -- Marv Albert @nbaontnt— NBA History (@NBAHistory) May 5, 2013
That was not an easy proposition for the Nets and a huge frontcourt of Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans; therefore Bosh and company will have their hands full.
Over the course of the regular season, Carlos Boozer had great success versus Bosh and the Heat. The much-maligned power forward averaged 19 points and 15 rebounds in four games versus Miami.
Noah also had good success. He put up 12 points while adding 10 rebounds in the two games that he played.
It is no big secret that the Miami Heat struggle against teams that have size. The Heat's biggest weakness is the Bulls biggest strength. Boozer and Noah starting, plus the ability to bring Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed off the bench gives the Bulls one leg up in this best-of-seven series.
The Bulls have a combination of size, athleticism, scoring and defense that they can throw at the Heat during any time of the game.
The Setbacks of Hinrich and Deng Will Help the Bulls
Not having Hinrich and Deng for the final games of the series with the Nets may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Once Hinrich is able to play he will be rested, as will Deng.
The availability of Hinrich is important because of the tough defense that he is able to play on Wade.
Hinrich is crafty, relentless and intelligent on the defensive end of the floor. He can also be the steadying hand on offense that the Bulls have lacked during the times that he has not been on the floor.
While Robinson is a shot maker, he can be erratic at times. Hinrich is the offensive stabilizer when that happens.
He will get his Bulls teammates in the proper position to receive an incoming pass. How much he means to the Bulls was evident in Games 5, 6 and 7 during the series versus the Nets.
Deng is a different story.
Deng is arguably the Bulls best all-around player. While he is not the scorer that fans wish he would become, he is a great defender and rebounder. He will be counted on to disrupt LeBron and Wade. Having to sit out the last two games due to his illness saved him of having to play heavy minutes. Despite being in the emergency room for a couple of days, it is no question that Deng should have an extra bounce in his step.
Tom Thibodeau is Coaching on a Different Level
By finishing the season 45-37, and beating the Nets in seven games, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has proven to be one of the NBA's best leaders.
How many head coaches can do what Thibodeau has done?
The Bulls were decimated with injuries this entire season. At some point in time, Richard Hamilton, Hinrich, Belinelli, Noah and Gibson were all a part of the walking wounded.
Imagine if the Heat were without LeBron James for a long stretch of time. Can you safely say that Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra would have his team where the Bulls are right now?
Thibodeau has instilled toughness, togetherness and resiliency into his Bulls team. So much so that it is hard to fathom any other team overcoming obstacles that they've had to overcome.
Defeating the defending champions, the Miami Heat is a huge mountain but it is clearly not out of the question. Is it safe to say that if the Bulls had all hands on deck, they are the better team?
When you look at the rosters considering the Bulls being completely healthy, the Bulls enjoy a size advantage. They also have athletic defenders in Deng and second-year forward Jimmy Butler.
Adding Derrick Rose to that starting lineup gives the Bulls a slight edge over Miami. It would be nice to see that come to fruition.