NBA Eastern Conference Finals: Bulls Vs. Heat Game 1 Preview

When the Bulls take the United Center court on Sunday night at 7 p.m. Central, we will be witnesses to one of basketball's great studies in contrast. It's almost poetic that the Bulls wear white while the Heat wear black (please Heat, don't wear red and ruin my metaphor, not to mention the entire See Red campaign). The Eastern Conference's two leading teams couldn't be more different in their construction, their makeup or their styles of play.

NBA playoff schedule for Bulls vs. Heat

Before we get into our own analysis and opinion, it's worth pointing out that there is no shortage of either already floating out on the interwebs. Your Friendly BullsBlogger has once again aggregated a number of fantastic links, allowing him to save his genius for game recaps, which are almost always spot on. One article he hit on that I thought was especially well-written was Zach Lowe's matchup analysis of the Bulls-Heat series. If you're interested in X's and O's and who will guard whom, I highly recommend it. Fox Sports' Bill Reiter has been following the Heat since training camp began and has as good a feel for the team as anyone. His latest analysis, a great one, looks into the Heat's recent celebration after beating the Celtics; The angle is unique and thoughtful and bodes well for you if you're a Bulls fan. Then again, if you're interested in a seat-of-the-pants article that's missing logic at seemingly every turn, I would recommend the 5 Burning Questions article posted on ESPN Saturday morning that includes such arguments as: Lebron will be the best player in the series not because he's a great player, but because Chicago won't have anyone to guard him when Luol Deng is off the floor. Bearing in mind that the only time Deng (43 MPG) is off the floor is during timeouts, I don't think that's what will spring James to a series MVP award even if he does end up earning it.

Surprisingly, I thought one of the best analyses of the series came from James himself in this Mike Wallace article. Perhaps James doesn't get enough credit for being a student of the game because of his other-worldly talent. He seems to have his finger on the pulse of the matchup:

"I can definitely see points in the game when it's not going to be fun for fans to watch if you love exciting basketball because it's going to be offensive struggles sometimes," James said Saturday as the Heat wrapped up preparations in Miami and traveled to Chicago for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday. "It's going to be two great defensive teams [that] take pride defensively, [teams that] get more out of getting stops than they do in scoring."

"I've guarded all the great point guards this league has to offer. And Derrick Rose ranks right up there. His speed, explosiveness and his uncanny ability to live in the moment - he loves the moment - you have to respect that."

"I don't see them putting Boozer on Bosh," James said. "I see them starting Joakim [Noah] on [Bosh] and allowing Boozer to guard Joel [Anthony] and kind of be a roamer. That's what I'm thinking. If I was a coach, that's what I'll do."

 

As has been repeated ad-nauseum, don't read too much into the Bulls sweeping away the Heat in their three regular season games. Only a combined eight points decided those contests, and as the Heat have taken their collective game to another level since they last faced Chicago, not to mention the difference between the regular season and the playoffs. But what does have great value in looking at those games are to see how Thibodeau altered his rotation and how each player performed in relation to their season averages.

 

Min

Pts

Reb

Ast

Fg%

To

 

NBA

MIA

NBA

MIA

NBA

MIA

NBA

MIA

NBA

MIA

NBA

MIA

O. Asik

11.8

16.1

2.3

1.3

3.6

6.9

0.4

0.0

.550

.500

0.7

0.7

K. Bogans

18.0

18.0

4.5

3.7

1.8

3.0

1.2

0.3

.408

.270

0.5

0.7

C. Boozer

31.7

33.7

16.6

13.3

9.6

9.7

2.4

2.3

.502

.460

2.5

2.7

R. Brewer

21.0

19.3

5.8

6.3

3.1

3.0

1.6

1.0

.476

.574

0.6

0.7

L. Deng

39.6

40.6

17.4

16.7

5.9

6.0

2.8

4.0

.456

.460

1.8

3.3

T. Gibson

21.3

16.1

7.0

5.0

5.5

2.3

0.7

0.7

.477

.362

0.9

0.3

K. Korver

19.9

16.3

8.2

5.7

1.8

1.7

1.5

1.3

.431

.333

0.8

0.3

J. Noah

32.8

31.3

11.4

9.0

10.4

8.0

2.2

0.5

.513

.500

1.7

1.0

D. Rose

37.7

39.5

25.5

29.0

4.1

3.3

7.7

6.3

.441

.445

3.5

3.0

C.J. Watson

12.8

11.5

4.7

3.3

1.1

1.7

2.2

2.0

.366

.303

1.0

0.0

 (Kurt Thomas excluded for only playing in one game vs. Heat)

 

A couple of things stand out from the numbers: First, Miami is a fantastic defensive team whose athleticism gives the Bulls fits on offense. Shooting percentages are down almost across the board except for Ronnie Brewer, who took advantage of the attention Miami paid to Derrick Rose, and used his physical advantage to roam the baseline looking for easy points and putbacks. Second, assists are down as well, most notably from point guard Derrick Rose, who Miami clearly strives to make a one-dimensional scorer. The Bulls are at their best when Rose creates shots for his teammates, and it's not surprise that Spoelstra's strategy is to make Rose try to win by himself. Strangely, Luol Deng's assists and turnovers were up in the Miami games, probably due to the fact that he handled the ball more when Lebron moved over to guard Rose at times. Also, Omer Asik's minutes saw a strong uptick, likely at the cost of Taj Gibson's, as his length and ability to run the floor both have high value against the Heat.

This is not a game to break down in matchups, because there will be so much crossover from position to position. Rose may find himself guarded by James or Dwayne Wade at any given time. Lebron may be checked by Deng, Joakim Noah, or both. Keith Bogans and Brewer will do their damndest on Wade, but if you're asking who guards who, just stop now. If the Bulls are to win this series, they must defend as a unit. Kyle Korver is going to be an interesting player to watch because he simultaneously opens up Chicago's offense while damaging its defense. Many teams have abandoned their offense entirely to attack Korver when he is on the floor, but if that means James Jones getting iso looks instead of James or Wade, then it may actually play in the Bulls favor.

One subplot that may end up swinging the outcome of a few games is that of Chicago's offensive rebounding versus Miami's transition game. The Bulls need to create extra possessions to keep up with Miami's offensive efficiency, and that is something they accomplish by being the league's best offensive rebounding team. The Heat love to get out on the break, where James and Wade are near unstoppable, but if they leak out early they run the risk of giving the Bulls the rebounding advantage they need to win. Likewise if the Bulls crash the glass, the Heat may be able to get out in transition for easy buckets if and when they secure the rebound while the Bulls are inside the free throw line. It's uncertain exactly how this will shake out, but rest assured it is one of the key things to watch in this series.

As LeBron stated above, much-maligned forwards Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer will likely not match up with one another on the floor. Noah's length and size is Chicago's best bet to limit Bosh with iso defense, while Boozer can body up offensive non-threat Joel Anthony and look to rebound from the weak side.

The contrasts are many: Deep team (with a leader and everyone else falling in line) vs. The Big Three (which is much more like The Big Two and another good player if we're being honest); a grinding halfcourt team vs. an uber-athletic running team; A beloved hometown MVP vs. a demonized imported MVP; Two first-year head coaches - one a lifetime coach who cut his teeth on an NBA bench for nearly 20 years before he got his shot and one hotshot young coach who sometimes looks like he's wearing his big boy suit but has shown an advanced knowledge and understanding of the game despite his experience. One of the last truly humble superstars versus a pair of the most ego-driven. I could go on and on.

This series is a journalist's dream, with storylines that go so far beyond a seven game playoff basketball series between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat. Over the next two weeks, we're sure to hear every angle and have every move dissected time and again, complete with video highlights, post game press conferences and 31 flavors of observer opinion. But with Game 1 only a few hours away, let's all take a moment in the calm before the storm to appreciate how sweet a matchup this is, and how much fun the basketball is going to be.

Can't. Wait.

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