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Healthy Derrick Rose Makes Chicago Bulls Miami Heat's Biggest Threat

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Healthy Derrick Rose Makes Chicago Bulls Miami Heat's Biggest Threat
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Derrick Rose will make his return to the Chicago Bulls next season. We think.

Relax, I'm joking. He'll be back, and if you ask Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, he'll be as explosive as ever.

For Chicago, Rose's progress and inevitable return to action is great news. For the rest of the NBA, specifically the Eastern Conference, not so much.

A Rose-led Bulls outfit alters the balance of power out East, and is cause enough for the reigning champion Miami Heat to be concerned.

Any team headed by LeBron James that is fresh off a second straight title is the team to beat. That's not going to change. Over the last year, however, the threat to Miami's throne was minimal, if it existed at all.

The New York Knicks fancied themselves championship contenders who could overthrow the Heat. Turns out they were wrong, as they couldn't even take down the Indiana Pacers.

Those Pacers nearly superseded the Heat, but whatever they threw at South Beach's finest wasn't enough. Knowing that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh spent most of the Eastern Conference Finals hoping they wouldn't be the reason Miami lost, that's saying something.

A newly re-tooled Brooklyn Nets faction would have us believe they're capable of ripping the Eastern Conference crown from Miami, but is their Big Five really more menacing than Rose's Bulls?

Assuming every team in the East remains (fairly) healthy, only a handful of opponents can even be mentioned in the same breath as the Heat.

 

4. Brooklyn Nets

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Is Brooklyn being overrated?

You're going to hate me. I just know it. But the Nets aren't the Heat's biggest competition 

Acquiring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (and Jason Terry) puts Brooklyn in the thick of the East's dealings. Mikhail Prokhorov allowed his team to mortgage its future on a pair of aging superstars, a move that makes the Nets a more formidable opponent now. Just not Miami-esque.

What is most troublesome about the Nets' revamped roster is Jason Kidd's offensive plans.

Kidd wants the Nets to stray away from isolation-heavy sets in favor of a more uptempo style, a move I'd normally endorse.

Brooklyn doesn't have the personnel to play that genre of basketball, though. Deron Williams can run the break effectively enough, but Garnett, Pierce, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez aren't what you would consider transition threats.

Using Johnson in the post more has its benefits of course. Back-to-the-basket sets aren't normally a strength of shooting guards, but he's an exception. At 32, however, there's no guarantee he can bang on the block with the more aggressive defenders he will likely be seeing.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Pierce and KG aren't necessarily enough to take the Nets past the Heat.

Age in general is also a limitation the Nets must be wary of. Garnett and Pierce are both on the wrong side of 35 and Joe-Joe, 32, isn't a kid anymore either. Minutes must be monitored, especially with the former two, and even after a few other additions/re-signings, the Nets don't have the proven depth necessary to carry them well into the fourth quarter as much as some believe.

Then there are always matchups to consider. The Heat won't have an answer for Deron Williams, but who is the Nets' LeBron stopper? Wade stopper? They don't have one.

Barring any major injuries, the Nets are a cinch to finish in the top five of the Eastern Conference. Pierce and Garnett's arrival guarantees nothing beyond that. 

The Heat aren't going to be overly concerned with Brooklyn, nor should they be.

 

3. New York Knicks

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
New York certainly isn't Miami's biggest threat.

To be clear, the idea that there is a championship to be won for the Knicks next season as currently constructed is almost as comical as Carmelo Anthony's reported infatuation with Rajon Rondo.

Elsa/Getty Images
Injuries are a problem in New York.

Still, plenty of people are continuing to underrate the Knicks, because they aren't making moves like Brooklyn or eyeing the successful return of a player like Rose or Danny Granger.

Newsflash: New York is still a top-four team in the East.

Flack will be hurled my way for making such an assertion, but that's alright. I still have the Knicks winning the Atlantic Division. Feel free to call for my keyboard if I'm wrong.

I present no smokescreens, however, with regard to the ultimate truth—the Knicks (as is) won't make it past the Heat. Another significant addition needs to be made, and it probably won't be.

Something about the Knicks, outside of 'Melo, still makes them a threat. They're built to knock down threes in bunches, one of the only recipes that exist to consistently beating Miami.

This can still happen, even without Novak.

Three-point barrages helped the Knicks go 3-1 against LeBron and friends last season. That part of their offense isn't going anywhere. If anything, they're relying even more on their deep-ball prowess. Mike Woodson is bound to give Andrea Bargnani more minutes than he did Steve Novak (right?).

Regressing to the mean is always a concern for a three-point chucking team like the Knicks. As is age. And Amar'e Stoudemire's knees. And 'Melo's shoulder. And Chandler's neck. And J.R. Smith's nightlife.

Once you wade through all the ifs and maybes, though, there is a team capable of surprising the league yet again.

They just aren't equipped to contend with the Heat over a full seven-game series, like the one they would be facing next spring.

 

2. Indiana Pacers

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Pacers are a tough beat for Miami.

Indiana had something special this past year.

The Pacers pushed the Heat to seven games during the Eastern Conference Finals, and are presumably only going to be better next year.

David West's return (albeit expensive) was impressive. Paired with Roy Hibbert, the Pacers have as ominous a frontcourt matchup for the Heat as there is.

Paul George's continued development is also huge. Few players have the length, speed, stamina and savvy to defend LeBron; he's one of the few.

They've also added a much-needed three-point assassin in Chris Copeland, who can seemingly score at will. Toss in Granger's return and the arrival of C.J. Watson, and the Pacers' "something special" becomes magnificent.

Always remember the Eastern Conference Finals.

One issue that the Pacers potentially have is the extent of their two-way consistency. Scoring was often their Achilles' heel last year, and while Granger and Copeland are meant to help correct that, Indiana needs to hope it does so without compromising anything on the defensive end.

This isn't to say those two players alone aren't going to muck up the Pacers' plans. Granger is a better defender than advertised and if there's a defense that can cover up Copeland's weaknesses on that side of the ball, it's Indy's.

Until the Pacers can prove they've assembled a rotation that works—the re-integration of Granger is key—and can play the way they did in the playoffs all season, there's plenty of question marks surrounding their championship ambitions.

All roads to a title lead through the Heat, and while the Pacers present one of the more difficult matchups, they're not the team Miami needs to watch out for most.

 

1. Chicago Bulls

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Rose can change everything.

I make no apologies for claiming the Bulls pose the biggest threat to the Heat next season. None whatsoever.

After watching what they were able to do last season without Rose, and in spite of a slew of other injuries, I'm sold on them as legit contenders if they stay healthy.

Second straight ring and all, the Heat still aren't built to go bruise-for-bruise with the Bulls.

Provided his ankle issues are resolved, Joakim Noah is too harrowing a matchup for Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen. Then there's Luol Deng, physically afflicted as ever, but still one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. Factor in how well Jimmy Butler performed against Miami in the second round of the playoffs, and you have a tandem capable of hassling LeBron and Wade better than anyone.

Bulls already have the defense, they just need the offense.

Sans Rose, had the rest of the Bulls been at full strength this past year, they would have still had one of the best chances at getting past Miami. That's how much respect I have for their defense and Thibs' ability to coach will into his players.

Add a rejuvenated Rose to the equation, and the Heat have a problem. A big one.

Miami can hope LeBron shuts him down, but like The King himself, Rose isn't completely removable when he's on the floor. Not even LeBron can combat his explosion on every possession. You can only hope to contain him.

Chicago's offense could be described as anemic without Rose, yet it was still able to finish with the fifth-best record in the East last season. Bringing in Mike Dunleavy Jr. to advance the three-point attack makes the Bulls considerably more difficult to defend, but it's Rose that transforms their offensive potency.

A look at what Rose can do for the Bulls' offense.

During the 2011-12 lockout-truncated season, the Bulls scored 107.4 points per possessions, the fifth-best mark in the league, higher than Miami's (106.6). Since Rose was drafted in 2008, Chicago averaged 108.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor through 2011-12, which would equate to the seventh-best showing in the NBA during that time.

Which team in the Eastern Conference poses the biggest threat to the Heat?

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When healthy, he changes things. A lot of things. The Bulls aren't depicted as a weak-minded offensive unit, and they're still a strong-willed defensive aggregate.

No team in the Eastern Conference has as much two-way potential as a Rose-guided Bulls. They're going to bully teams with their defensive attack either way, but with him, they have the means to put up some of the most gaudy offensive totals across the league, let alone just the conference.

Think about that. Again and again and again. You know the Heat will. Each time they'll come to the same conclusion, too: Rose renders Chicago a force to be feared by everyone, including Miami.

Especially Miami.

 

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