The 2011 NBA playoffs have been wild and unpredictable, yet still the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference will collide for a chance to go to the NBA Finals. While many have hopped onto the Miami Heat bandwagon after their resounding defeat of the battered Boston Celtics, it would be unwise to count either team out. Miami and Chicago will each have certain advantages in the series that they must exploit in order to proceed to the next round of the playoffs.
The Chicago Bulls have relied too heavily on MVP Derrick Rose to carry them through the playoffs so far. Their next two top scorers, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, haven’t been stepped up as consistently as will be required against the Heat. If both struggle then there is little hope for Chicago to advance to the finals.
Derrick Rose will probably be guarded by Mike Bibby to start games, which would be the biggest mismatch in the series. There is no way Bibby can stay in front of Rose, and the help defense of the Heat must rotate quickly to avoid the MVP from have getting to the basket or the free throw line every trip down the court.
With the Heat needing to assist their point guard every almost every possession, Rose should be able to find open shooters. If the Bulls are to win, then Boozer, Deng, Kyle Korver and others must knock down open jump shots. Otherwise Miami will be able to focus solely on Rose and too much pressure will be on him.
The Bulls bench is clearly a notch above that of the Heat, and will be another key for their chances. With the way they play defense, Chicago should try and wear the Heat down with their physicality. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James are counted on to play big minutes and it is unknown how they will react to getting banged around for six or seven games.
Miami has the advantage in true superstars, with Wade and James against Chicago’s Rose. While Chris Bosh, Deng and Boozer are all pretty good players, none of them can completely take over a game like the other three can. LeBron has begun to exorcise some of his late game demons as the club finally looks to have figured out how to handle late game situations, while Wade already has a championship pedigree. If those two are put in the right situations down the stretch they are almost impossible to stop.
While Chicago’s defense gets all of the press, Miami has shown how well they defend in the playoffs. James, Wade and Bosh are all athletic players capable of contributing with blocked shots and steals. The Heat are at their best when they can get in the open court.
If Bibby is going to be on the floor for significant minutes then he needs to start hitting his long distance opportunities. He is a defensive liability, and if he isn’t knocking down jumpers then he serves little purpose. A possibility would be using a bigger line up, with LeBron handling the ball and Mike Miller taking Bibby’s place on the court.
One key factor to watch at the beginning of the series is how the Heat start off. They celebrated their second round win like they had just won the championship, and it would not be surprising for them to begin the series somewhat flat. On the other hand, the Bulls would have expected to beat their first two opponents and now will have an opportunity to play one of the top teams in the league.
Whichever team is able to control their emotions yet fully invest themselves in the game from the start will have the initial advantage. Legacies are on the line and both teams know how big an opportunity sits in front of them. Expect a long and drawn out series between two of the best teams in the NBA.