The Eastern Conference has had a battle for the top spot. The Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics have all made cases as to why they belong at the top. Being at the top does not necessarily mean that the number one seed is the team best suited to take on the best out west.
Despite a recent loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Chicago Bulls have played exceptionally well. Derrick Rose and company have exceeded expectations and have been a major threat to teams such as Boston and Miami. Exceeding expectations leads to more pressure to succeed. Chicago has been able to match that pressure up to this point.
A reason Chicago looks poised to potentially win it all is playing well against the best that the league has to offer. Chicago has defeated 14 of the current 16 playoff teams. The only two that the Bulls have not beaten are the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets (combined 0-3 against). Regular season wins are just that, but having wins against playoff-bound teams is encouraging.
Size does matter in the NBA playoffs. Of the top three in the East, Chicago by far has the deepest front court. Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and "Big Sexy" Kurt Thomas have all played integral roles in the development and execution of coach Tom Thibodeau's game plan. Injuries have, and currently are, showing the talents are depth players Gibson, Asik and Thomas.
Boston have played well with Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and recently acquired Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green. Health has also been a question with the big men in Beantown, but it is safe to say that the depth is not as obvious compared to Chicago.
Miami's combination of Chris Bosh, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier, Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and Dexter Pittman cannot hold a candle to either Boston or Chicago. Consistency has been an issue for Miami as a whole, and the men in the paint are not exempt. Bosh has been the best out of the bunch, but without any major contributions from the other bigs, Bosh is not nearly as effective.
Chicago, if playing in the finals, would more than likely face Dallas, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, or the Los Angeles Lakers. All three teams get above average contributions from a group of big men. The Mavs have Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler playing large roles, the Spurs have a first ballot Hall of Famer in Tim Duncan and solid youngsters like DaJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, OK City got much larger with Kendrick Perkins and getting more production from Serge Ibaka, and the Lake show have the twin towers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Chicago has the makeup to hold their own in the paint against any of those groups of backcourts.
Derrick Rose has been the league MVP in 2010-11. His emergence as a superstar has given the Bulls and their fans a glimpse of what could be a special career, and a chance to win championships again. Having the league MVP could be the spark Chicago needs to win it all. When Boston won it all in 2008, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett rejuvenated Paul Pierce. That trio, along with a complement of good role players, got what you play the game for.
Chicago may not have as big of a trio as Boston did, but Rose has had help from Boozer and Luol Deng in achieving what they have up to this point. With the complement of the backcourt, and other solid second unit guys like C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, the Bulls resemble a complete team.
Miami has the well-publicized trio of Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but the supporting cast has not carried their weight in basketballs, to say the least. If Miami played a more complete team game, there would be no question that they could win this year.
Boston's "Big Three" is still together and a major threat, but their health could be a curse. Unless their stars get breaks, who knows how long the Celtics are healthy. To this point though, Boston has been playing a well-rounded team game.
Out west, San Antonio and Los Angeles offer the best concoction of team play and cohesiveness. With proven winners like Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bynum, Gasol, and Kobe Bryant, to say another championship for either team would be a gross understatement.
What Chicago lacks is experience. This intangible could be the kryptonite a team like Boston, San Antonio, and Los Angeles could take advantage of. A deep playoff run for Rose and company would be a new experience, and one with so many complexities.
That same inexperience has not scared many experts and analysts away from thinking teams like Oklahoma City and Miami could be championship contenders. Chicago has earned a place in that select group.
With all that being said, Chicago has managed to handle adversity on different levels all season long. Injuries, hype and media attention have not held the Bulls back, and being able to continue on the unexpected upward drive to an elite team in the NBA could be what brings the Larry O'Brien trophy back to the Windy City.