Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat: Preview of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals
One of this season's long-awaited playoff matchups is now just a few days away.
Chicago ended up as the top regular season team in the East with a 62-20 record. This is the Bulls first time back in the Eastern Conference Finals since 1998 (the end of the Jordan era).
Derrick Rose was the 2011 NBA MVP, the youngest recipient of the award
And the Bulls first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau was named the NBA Coach of the Year. He tied the record for most wins by a rookie head coach (62).
The following is a preview of what could be an instant classic, a heavy-weight battle that could end up as one of the best non-Finals matchups in NBA history.
Tom Thibodeau didn't win the NBA Coach of the Year Award because of his good looks...sorry, TT.
At age 53, Thibodeau is in his first year as the Bulls' head coach, but he is not lacking in experience.
From 1989-2010, he served as an assistant coach on six different teams.
A greatly respected defensive specialist, Thibodeau's teams are always at or near the top of the league in multiple defensive catagories.
This year's Bulls' team was only 0.2 ppg behind the Celtics in scoring defense.
One of the reasons why the Bulls beat the Heat all three times that the two teams faced each other this season was that Thibodeau devised brilliant schemes to shut down Miami's attack.
The Heat failed to score 100 points in any of these matchups (96, 89, and 86).
Erik Spoelstra is also a relatively new sideline leader. He has been the head coach of the Heat since 2008.
Spoelstra has been given credit for helping Heat star Dwyane Wade's "shooting balance and smoothing out his release" (Sports Illustrated- May 30, 2005)
While we would expect that the main battles of this series will take place with both teams' starters, the players coming off the bench may have an influence on who moves on to the Finals.
The Bulls send in a more-than-capable group of reinforcements, headed by Taj Gibson (7.1 ppg/5.7 rpg) and Kyle Korver (8.3 ppg), both of which provide length and punch when they enter the lineup.
Ronnie Brewer was Chicago's team leader in steals (1.3 spg) and Omer Asik (7'0", 255 lbs.) will also be depended on to bring quality minutes up front.
The Heat bring in Mike Miller (5.6 ppg), James Jones (5.9 ppg), Mario Chalmers (6.4 ppg) and Juwan Howard (2.4 ppg.), all good role players.
Unless something goes completely wrong for Miami, these four will have only a limited impact on the outcome of this series.
The Bulls' Joakim Noah has emerged as one of the best young, athletic centers in the league.
Noah was Chicago's rebounding (10.4 rpg) and shot-blocking (1.5 bpg) leader.
He is an efficient offensive player, scoring 11.7 ppg on only 8.4 shots per game.
In the postseason, Joel Anthony has stepped into the role of starting center for the Heat.
Averaging less than 20 minutes per game in the regular season, Anthony has played an average of 31 minutes per game in Miami's 10 playoff games.
Anthony (6'9", 245 lbs) may be an undersized post player, but he is a good shot-blocker and an adequate rebounder.
In his first year in Chicago, Carlos Boozer has stepped into a primary role for the Bulls.
He averaged 17.5 ppg and 9.6 rpg this season.
Boozer has not had a great 2010-11 postseason from an offensive standpoint, scoring 10.7 ppg and shooting 10 percent less (41.7 percent) than he did during the regular season.
He will match up against the Heat's Chris Bosh.
Bosh is a versatile PF facing the basket. He has a good mid-range game and is a solid rebounder.
While Boozer is a strong and physical defender, he will have his hands full when it comes to containing Bosh. Bosh's length could be a problem to Boozer's offensive output
Luol Deng needs to bring his A+ game when this series opens. He will have the privilege (or should I say the problem) of guarding LeBron James.
Deng is a very strong defender. He's long. He challenges shots, tips passes and gets to loose balls.
But Deng is also a main contributor on the offensive end, scoring 17.4 ppg, handing out 2.8 apg and grabbing 5.8 rpg.
LeBron James is arguably one of the best players in the NBA.
James (26.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, and 7.0 apg) can beat you in so many ways.
He is a terror taking the ball to the basket. He hits big shots. He kicks the ball to his teammates so they can score. He is strong on the boards....Do I need to keep going?
In the two games that James played against the Bulls this year, he basically filled the stat sheet with his season averages.
What Deng gives up in size to James, he needs to make up for it in hustle and savvy.
The name of the game will not be shutting down LeBron; that's not gonna happen by Deng himself.
Deng needs to make LBJ work hard to get things going...and that he can do.
The Bulls may use a shooting-guard-by-committee approach to defending perennial All-Star Dwyane Wade.
While Keith Bogans (4.4 ppg) will most likely start, Ronnie Brewer (6.2 ppg), because of his length, may see more action in this series than he has in the first two rounds.
And we haven't even talked about Kyle Korver (8.3 ppg).
Wade has elevated his game in the playoffs, improving on his already-good stats from the regular season (25.5 ppg; 6.4 rpg; 4.6 apg).
When Wade gets going, the Heat win lots of games.
In the first two games against Chicago this year, Wade had 33 and 34 points, and yet the Bulls still won those games.
In the third (Crying in the Locker Room) game, Wade "was held to" 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting.
Derrick Rose is playing like the the league's MVP....Oh, wait! He is the league's MVP!
He fired on all cylinders during the Atlanta series, averaging 30 points and 10 assists per game.
Is there anyone any better than D-Rose in the open court? I think not.
It is not clear who the Heat might use to guard him.
Mike Bibby (7.3 ppg), a 12-year veteran, might struggle to keep up with Rose.
Mario Chalmers (6.4 ppg) will get his chance to keep Rose in check.
Like the Bulls will have to do against James and Wade, the Heat will need to take a team-approach to containing Rose.
Looking forward to an amazing series!!! Couldn't ask for a better matchup.
Two great teams that can play on either end of the court.
Superstar players ready to compete at a very high level.
It's hard to imagine that the team that had the best record in the NBA would be considered an underdog.
Unless something changes, the Miami Heat will be the favorite going into the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.
But, the Chicago Bulls do have home-court advantage, and that will be part of the reason why they will win the East in seven games and advance to the NBA Finals to face the Dallas Mavericks.