Chicago Bulls—Not Indiana Pacers—Remain Biggest Threat to Miami Heat
After the Indiana Pacers pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, it became popular to suggest they were the biggest threat to the Heat going forward. Those who think that are simply forgetting how good a healthy Chicago Bulls team was and will be.
The Pacers have a good team, but the fact that they almost made it to the finals reflects more on the competition than it does their talent.
They had the best defense in the league in terms of points per 100 possessions, but were 20th offensively, according to Basketball-Reference.
They won just 49 games in the regular season, the lowest total for a conference finalist in a non-strike shortened season since 2003-04.
Including the playoffs, they won 60 of their 100 games. They're a respectable foe, but none of that compares to what a healthy Bulls team did over the last few seasons.
With Derrick Rose on the court, the Bulls have won 65 of their last 82 games, including the playoffs. During the 2010-11 regular season alone, the Bulls won 62 games and 71 of their 98 games including the playoffs.
Although that team lost to the Heat in five games, you can argue they were as close to beating them as the Pacers were this year.
Against the Bulls two years ago, the Heat won four games by a total of 32 points and were just plus-11 in the series. Against the Pacers, however, their average margin of victory was 13.25 points per game and they outscored Indiana by 28 points.
The common thought is that this is the best Miami team since LeBron decided to take his talents to South Beach. However, that's a hard argument to support when you consider the physical ailments of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
This year's Pacers team pales in comparison to the 2010-11 Bulls, and there is no comparison between them and the 2011-12 Bulls.
That version of the Bulls won 50 of their 66 regular season games with the fifth ranked offense and second ranked defense in terms of points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.
The 2011-12 Bulls scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions and allowed 98.3. This past year, the Pacers scored 104.3 and allowed 99.8.
The numbers are even worse when you consider Rose missed 27 of their 66 games that season.
When Rose did play, the Bulls were 32-7, a winning percentage that calculates out to 67 wins during an 82-game season. Which is on par with their last 82 games with him, including the playoffs.
With Rose on the floor, the Bulls outscored their opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions, according to 82games.com. By comparison, the Heat outscored their opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions with LeBron James on the floor.
That Bulls team with Rose was scary. So scary, it's hard to argue that the Heat would have won the Eastern Conference last season.
Even this past season, the Bulls won just four fewer regular season games, despite missing Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich for a significant amount of time. Had Luol Deng and Hinrich been available against the Heat, it's not hard to see how they could have pushed them to six or seven games.
They're returning every key player and adding a former League Most Valuable Player.
The common rebuttal is that while the Bulls have Rose coming back, the Pacers will be welcoming Danny Granger back to their lineup. They're simply not comparable players.
While everyone expects Indiana's Paul George to take the next step to stardom, it's easy to forget the improvements the Bulls can make.
Rose has yet to reach his 25th birthday and continues to work on his jump shot, perhaps the only flaw in his game. It's widely expected that he will return to being the same player he once was.
The more Jimmy Butler played, the more he improved. He's the same age as George and averaged 14.5 points on 45.7 percent shooting and 7.1 rebounds per game when he started this season, according to ESPN.
While the Bulls have questions to solve this offseason regarding depth. The Pacers may have to replace David West, a key ingredient to their success.
The Pacers were a tough matchup for the Heat because Miami can't compete with Roy Hibbert's size. However, that doesn't mean the rest of the league can't.
Hibbert averaged 22.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game against the Heat. However, he averaged just 13.3 points and 10.3 rebounds against the Knicks in the semifinals, and 14.7 points and 8.8 rebounds against the Hawks in the first round. Hardly dominant.
The Bulls are also a tough matchup for the Heat. With Deng, Noah and Butler, the Bulls have elite defenders on each of Miami's "Big Three."
Butler is coming off a series in which he held James to just 43.8 percent from the field. James shot 51 percent from the field against the Pacers.
If the conversation is about who matches up better with the Heat, it's a debate worth having. If it is who is the better team next year and in the future, it's hard to argue against the Bulls.
The Bulls are simply better and deeper than the Pacers. They fell short against the Heat a couple years ago because they didn't play very well. The Pacers gave the Heat their best shot and still lost.
Given the deteriorating condition of Wade's knee, I'd like either team in a series with the Heat next season. However, when it comes to competition with each other or the rest of the league, it's hard to see how the Pacers match up to the Bulls going forward.
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