The Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah was right when he said his team would win Game 7 versus the Brooklyn Nets. Now, Noah and the gang have a second-round playoff date with the defending-champion Miami Heat.
Can Chicago defeat LeBron James and his deeply talented Heat squad?
Although it’s a major challenge, the Bulls can get the job done. Nobody predicted the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets to knock off the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics during the ’94 playoffs, right?
Anything is possible.
The Bulls proved they could beat Miami during the regular season, winning two of the four. Playing without Derrick Rose—who hasn’t played in over a year (torn ACL) and likely won’t until next season—and Noah, Chicago snapped the Heat’s insane 27-game winning streak back in March.
Although he has been medically cleared to play, Rose doesn’t feel comfortable rejoining his mates just yet. The Bulls are used to playing without their franchise point guard, though, and their roster has been hampered with injuries all season long.
Control the Glass
The Heat have a lot of things going for them. They can score, play defense and shoot the ball extremely well. They possesses the best basketball player on the planet in James as well as fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
However, the words “quality rebounding” just aren’t in their vocabulary. Miami finished the regular season ranked dead last in total rebounds with 38.6 per game. The Bulls ranked eighth in the league.
Back on Jan. 4, the Bulls picked up an impressive victory over the Heat, as they out-rebounded the guys from South Beach 48-28. Chicago won the offensive rebounding battle 19-4.
The Bulls' starting frontcourt duo of Noah and Carlos Boozer crashes the boards on a nightly basis. Against the Nets, Boozer averaged 10.6 rebounds per game while Noah grabbed 9.9. Noah set the tone in Game 7 with five offensive boards in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Miami’s Bosh and Udonis Haslem are averaging only a combined 13 rebounds this postseason.
The Bulls must dominate the glass in order to advance past the Heat, the epitome of a “small ball” team.
Play Suffocating Defense
The Bulls struggle to score, especially without Rose in the lineup. So how did they manage to earn the fifth seed in the East and reach the second round of the playoffs? Outstanding play on the defensive end is the answer to that question.
As long as head coach Tom Thibodeau is around, the Bulls will hang their on gritty defense. The team has a pair of quality interior defenders in Noah and reserve Taj Gibson. Noah came up with a playoff career-high six blocks in Game 7 versus Brooklyn.
And on the perimeter, the Bulls possess a trio of players—Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler—who are capable of giving scorers fits.
While no one can actually stop King James, Butler can certainly make life difficult for the four-time NBA MVP.
Let me calculate my thoughts real fast before I say (what I want to say). I believe and I know that a lot of my fouls are not . First of all, Kirk Hinrich in the first quarter basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. The last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground. Those are not defensive ... those are not basketball plays.
Here’s the Hinrich play James was referring to.
And this is the Gibson play.
One of the things Miami does best is shoot from beyond the arc. Although the team has only hit 32.2 percent of its three-point attempts this postseason, they shot 39.6 percent during the regular season (second-best in the league). Four players knocked down over 100 treys, led by Ray Allen’s 139.
Containing the Heat’s plethora of shooters will certainly be a major key for Chicago. If the Bulls fail to do so, it could be a really miserable series for Thibodeau’s crew.
This will be an interesting series, as the two teams aren’t very fond of one another. Miami is expected to win it all this year, but we’ll see if the banged-up Bulls can pull off a monumental upset.