Whether warranted or not, there is one glaring disparity between the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat in their conference finals matchup. It isn't a tangible discrepancy, such as free throw attempts or second chance possessions. It is an intangible that has been looming over the Miami Heat all season, and now looms larger than ever after the Heat's Game 1 loss to the Bulls. So, what is it?
The Heat's season has been riddled with scrutiny intense enough to make Barack Obama blush. And as the playoffs have progressed, the intensity of that scrutiny has reached new heights. After its poetically dramatic Game 5 win over the Boston Celtics, many assumed the worst was over with for the guys from South Beach, and that there was now a clear path to the franchise's second championship.
But as the Heat's Game 1 meltdown in Chicago indicated, that assumption was dead wrong.
The season-long attention with which the media has showered the Heat has created the perfect remedy for the higher seeded Bulls to "upset" the most hated team in America.
While being incessantly analyzed by the national media, the Heat's 58-win season, good for third-best in the NBA, was deemed underwhelming by the majority of the basketball universe.
On the contrary, the Bulls began the season with no major expectations outside of the city of Chicago. Their biggest off-season story was that LeBron James didn't sign with them. The Bulls flew under the radar and finished the season boasting a league-best 62 win season. Considered by most to be overachieving, the Bulls haven't been getting the credit they've rightfully deserved.
So here we are, the Bulls up one game to none and the pressure mounting on the Heat. In Game 1, the overlooked Bulls relished their first true opportunity to prove themselves, while the Heat looked vastly overmatched while attempting to prove itself for the 93rd time this season.
Chicago played like a team with nothing to lose, shooting confidently from deep (47 percent) and relentlessly crashing the offensive boards, snagging 13 more than its Miami counterparts.
To be honest, no one will blink an eye if the Bulls lose this series. They are playing a team with two roster spots reserved for two of the best basketball players on the planet, players who came together for the sole purpose of winning championships, and to start doing so immediately.
The Bulls, meanwhile, are lead by the 22-year-old MVP Derrick Rose, whose breakthrough season also warranted Most Improved Player consideration. He, unlike LeBron, has no playoff reputation to correct. He, as well as the rest of his team, has nothing to lose. But unfortunately for the Heat, it believes it has something to prove.
At this point, Chicago's season has already been credited as a success by everyone not named Derrick Rose or Tom Thibodeau.
On the other hand, the Miami Heat's season will be considered a failure unless it brings the Larry O'Brien trophy back to South Beach.
The Heat has bounced back from adverse situations all season long, and is undoubtedly prepared to do so again against the top-seeded Bulls.
Doing so, however, will unquestionably be the highest hurdle of the Miami Heat's season thus far, as it will have to overcome a team with nothing to lose and out to prove that it is as good as its 62-20 record indicates. And after the shellacking the Bulls gave the Heat in Game 1, those 62 wins are beginning to seem like an accurate reflection after all.