How Far Can the Chicago Bulls Advance in the NBA Playoffs?

Ernest Shepard@@ernestshepardAnalyst IIIMay 8, 2013

MIAMI, FL - MAY 06: (L-R) Jimmy Butler #21, Nate Robinson #2, Joakim Noah #13, Carlos Boozer #5 and Marco Belinelli #8 of the Chicago Bulls huddle on court against the Miami Heat during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 6, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Have the Chicago Bulls peaked in the NBA playoffs?

After watching their Game 1 performance against the Miami Heat, it would be easy to say that was the last victory they'll have in the postseason.

It was not their best game, but they fought hard en route to a 93-86 win.

Their victory was just like the other playoff wins: the moment you believe that the Bulls are finished, they make a big run and escape the jaws of defeat.

Game 1 in Miami featured times when the Bulls played sloppy. Their 15 turnovers showed both their nerves and the Heat's relentless pressure on defense. In the first two quarters the Bulls could barely get in sync on offense, attempting shots as the final seconds of the shot clock were ticking down.

The Heat struggled with their offense as well, likely a result from their nine-day layoff.

In the first half, Miami had nice looks at open shots, yet they failed to convert them. It is easy to say that their legs were not under them given how flat their jump shots were. They ended the first quarter with 15 points, and finished the half with 37.

Will the Heat continue to fail at capitalizing on the open opportunities that they have?

That is difficult to answer. It will depend on how the Bulls approach them on defense.

Defense, Defense, Defense!

First, you have to consider how the Bulls play defense. They swarm the basketball, make the right switches and contest nearly every shot. How the Bulls contest the jump shooters on the Miami Heat will dictate whether or not they can pull off a miraculous upset against the defending champions.

Defensively, the Bulls have to be on their A-game.

That means stopping LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from attacking the basket. Once they do that, they have to close in on the open shooters. Players such as Shane Battier and Ray Allen cannot be allowed easy looks and open three-point shots.

The Bulls have to be smart on defense and communicate with one another. With Luol Deng questionable for the best-of-seven series, much of the onus on guarding LeBron will be placed on Jimmy Butler's shoulders.

He will definitely have his hands full.

If he can make life tough for LeBron by forcing him to take low-percentage shots, this will make everyone else's job easier.

While the Heat's problem was missing open shots, who's to say that the Bulls will be slow on the defensive rotations as they were in Game 1?

Jimmy Butler the Scoring Threat

Defense is one way that the Bulls can advance; the play of Jimmy Butler is another way.

While defending LeBron James throughout the first game, Butler had 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. If he can keep up that level of play, the chances of the Bulls' winning increases tremendously.

Butler is not known for his scoring. He is a defensive-minded player by nature and a shooter second. As a starter, he is averaging 12.9 points per game while shooting 43 percent from the field. This is after playing a full 48-minute game for the third consecutive contest. 

That's not bad for player that barely saw the basketball court during his rookie season.

The Bulls would need him to increase that output and force LeBron James to work on the defensive end. That's a real important key for Chicago going forward.

The more LeBron works, the faster he may wear out. It is a risky proposition, but it is definitely worth a try.

Ideally, if Butler can average between 17 and 20 points in the series, the Bulls might advance.

The Re-Introduction of Richard Hamilton

Butler’s scoring alone cannot fully push the Bulls over the edge. He will need help from his teammates. Facing Miami is a perfect time to unveil shooting guard Richard Hamilton.

Hamilton has played sparingly in the playoffs, but against the Heat, he could definitely fill a void.

With a championship under his belt, "Rip" could allow Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to give Butler some rest and add scoring punch off the bench. At 6'7" he can be a matchup nightmare for Wade or anyone else that defends him.

One of things missing from Game 1 was veteran leadership.

While it's true that the Bulls have several players with playoff experience, no one has played in more postseason games than Hamilton. When the Bulls were turning the ball over, the insertion of Hamilton could have provided a calming influence.

How Hamilton is used will go a long way in deciding this playoff matchup between the Bulls and the Heat.

Have the Bulls peaked in the postseason?

Can they pull off an upset and advance to the Eastern Conference finals?

It will all depend on whether or not they can follow this blueprint.


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