Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat: Are the Bulls the NBA's Last Hope?
Watching a sobbing LeBron James going down to one knee after the game reminded me of Michael Jordan tearing up, hugging the trophy after his first sweet taste of victory.
What's wrong with this picture?
Who celebrates like the Heat did after winning a semifinal round series?
To that, I say, who throws an introduction ceremony that looks like a victory parade?
This was destined from the moment James proclaimed he was "Taking his talents to South Beach" last summer. "The Decision" was made with the thought of winning multiple championships and running roughshod over the rest of the league.
His wish is about to come to fruition, with only one obstacle standing in the way of the 'Evil Empire.'
The Chicago Bulls are the last hope to keep that from happening. I know there is another round after, but let's face it, the Eastern Conference Finals is the real championship series.
Even though the Bulls finished the season with the league's best record, Miami is favored for a couple of reasons.
The Bulls have not looked like the best team in the NBA against supposed lesser opponents after the playoff's first two rounds, while the Heat have looked like they are finally running on all cylinders.
On paper, that appears to be true, but let's take a closer look.
Did the Bulls really have the easiest path to the Eastern Conference Finals?
Indiana was an under .500 team that made the Bulls work a lot harder than most critics felt they should have until finally succumbing in five games. Still, Indiana was a physical team playing with a new coach who had them playing very good basketball at the end the season.
While the Atlanta Hawks were thought of as a talented but individualistic bunch, they surprisingly played more like a team than expected against the Bulls.
The injury to Kirk Hinrich turned out to be a blessing in disguise for them, as seldom-used backup Jeff Teague gave the Bulls all they could handle. He was the reason the series was extended to six games.
Despite the perceived poor play by the Bulls, they have played only one more game to get here than Miami did.
The Heat got by a scrappy but overmatched Philadelphia team in the first round in five games.
They also beat the one thorn in LeBron James side—the Boston Celtics—in the same amount of games.
Was that as impressive as it seemed?
Miami didn't beat them Wednesday night. Boston lost the series on Feb. 24 when they traded Kendrick Perkins.
They had a 41-14 record that day, the best in the Eastern Conference. They ended up only 56-26, dropping from the top seed to third.
As good as the trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were for Boston, the Perkins' trade was just as bad and made no sense.
The Celtics were only built to win for a short period of time, and Perkins was the perfect fit for them.
He was an anchor in the middle, played tough defense, rebounded and didn't require the ball. With Perkins, the chemistry was just right.
He was what Boston needed to thwart Miami's drives to the basket. With him, the Heats' chances of winning would have diminished greatly.
They never lost a playoff series with their whole team intact, including Perkins.
The window for Boston to win a championship was closing—and now it's closed.
Gar Forman of the Bulls and Pat Riley of Miami shared the Executive of the Year award, and it was well warranted for both.
If there was a Worst Executive of the Year award, Danny Ainge would be the slam-dunk winner.
Miami beat an aging and injured team.
Garnett was a shadow of his former self, Allen and Paul Pierce weren't getting any younger and, of course, there was no Perkins. Then, Rajon Rondo went down in Game 3. He courageously played the rest of the series as the "one-armed man," but once that happened, it was over.
So, while LeBron and the rest of the Heat acted like they hadn't been there before after beating Boston, Derrick Rose and the Bulls just shook hands after knocking off Atlanta, realizing there is still work to be done.
This is the matchup that has everyone salivating—the three most exciting players in the league on the center stage.
The Bulls have home-court advantage and won the season series 3-0, but they might not have the answer to stop both LeBron and Wade.
The key to the series for the Bulls is to keep the two of them from going crazy and to limit Chris Bosh's effectiveness.
Miami doesn't have much of a bench, but in the playoffs, there is more time off between games, so that will not hurt them as much as it would during the regular season with the starters playing heavy minutes.
The Bulls do have one of the better benches in the league, and they will need it to perform well enough to have a chance to win the series. Kyle Korver is a key. He has to hit his shots.
Taj Gibson can come off the bench and give valuable minutes subbing for Carlos Boozer, while rookie center Omer Asik adds valuable size in the lane to stop the Heat from attacking the basket.
The Bulls can't afford to turn the ball over and create fast-break opportunities for Miami. LeBron and Wade love to play the passing lanes, and if the Bulls are not careful with the ball, they can suddenly find themselves falling far behind.
That's something Chicago cannot afford to do against Miami like they did in the first two rounds. It's going to be a lot harder to come back against them.
The Bulls needed a miracle finish in the final few minutes to beat Indiana in the first game, and Atlanta won Game 1.
The Bulls need to win the first game for two reasons.
It would stop Miami's momentum and makes them think that maybe Chicago has their number. It also wouldn't set up Game 2 as a must-win for the Bulls because they don't want to go back to Miami down 2-0.
Miami can be beat if you keep them close. Their record during the season was not very good in games decided by three points or less.
They had trouble trying to close out those games, though they have been better of late, including LeBron scoring the last 10 to finish off the Celtics.
Luol Deng will be guarding LeBron with Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer covering Wade, but the Bulls are all about team defense. If they can turn up the heat (no pun intended, OK there was) like they did in the series clincher against Atlanta, things can get very tough for Miami.
Rebounding is another key for Chicago as they were one of the best rebounding teams in the league during the season, and they can't afford to give Miami second shots.
Rose does whatever he needs to win—whether it's shooting or distributing the ball. If he gets off, there is a possibility that LeBron switches on him like he did when he was playing for Cleveland.
Both he and Wade are very good defenders, and they have upped their intensity in the playoffs.
Deng is often thought of as the Bulls' forgotten man. While he is steady, he can disappear at times. For the Bulls to have a chance in this series, he has to stay in the game, attack the basket and hit the three when open.
Joakim Noah has to be his usual bundle of energy in the middle. Along with rebounds and defense, the Bulls need to get some offense from him.
The other key matchup is the third amigo for Miami—Bosh vs. Boozer.
They are both maligned—Bosh has been the least talented of the trio and Boozer has not been the player the Bulls thought they paid the big bucks to.
He has been injured and not as aggressive at the basket as he needs to be to win this matchup. He looked as good as he has in awhile during the final Atlanta game.
Given a choice between him and Bosh in the offseason, I went for Boozer because he has more of an inside game and a physical presence. I'm going to need to be right about the choice if the Bulls are going to win this series.
Speaking of being right, I sometimes have a segment on my radio show where my co-hosts say, "Darrell, you're right." They don't just do it just to placate me, but because I was right about something I said they disagreed with. Of course, I milk it for all it's worth.
I don't like saying this, but I think Miami is going to win this one in six.
I just think there are too many things that have to go right for the Bulls to win this series.
For once, I hope I'm wrong.
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