The One We've Been Waiting For

Generally, I write to an audience that doesn't closely follow
the NBA.  They're Bulls' fans mind you,
it's just that most wouldn't dream of spending a couple precious weekend hours during
the regular season watching a Raptors-Twolves game (come to think of it,
neither would I).  With them in mind, I
did playoff write-ups on the Pacers and Hawks to explain things like the
late-season emergence of the Pacers' Tyler Hansbrough and to sing the praises
of the wondrously-erratic Hawk Josh Smith.

The Bulls now face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference
Finals.  You don't need to be an NBA fan
to know about the Heat.  In fact, you
don't even need to be a sports fan.  Ask
some little old lady on the street who plays on the Heat and she'll get at
least 2 correct answers.

The Heat Dynasty -
Year 1

When Lebron James announced that he was "taking his talents
to South Beach" to join forces with superstar guard Dwayne Wade and brought All
Star power forward Chris Bosh along for the ride, the national media quickly
declared a dynasty.  Never in the history
of the league had 3 in-their-prime players of this magnitude played on the same
team.  Many predicted that the Heat would
shatter the '95-'96 Bulls regular season record of 72 wins.

When the Heat got off to a disappointing 9-8 start to the
season (making the record-breaking 73-9 somewhat unlikely), the national media wrote
it off as a normal adjustment phase. 
This looked like a good call as the Heat promptly ran off a 12-game
winning streak and won 21 of their next 22 to tie them with the Boston Celtics
atop the NBA's Eastern Conference standings at 30-9.  It took a little time, but the Heat were
where they were supposed to be and the rest of the league would soon be mere specks
in their rearview mirror.

Didn't happen.  The
Heat played well, going 58-24, but struggled against the top teams (2-9 vs the
Celtics, Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks). 

The national story
line

Despite the fact that the Bulls won more games than any
other team this season, beat the Heat all three times they played them and have
home court advantage, the Heat are the betting favorites in this game.  Why?  A
couple reasons.

First, it's generally believed that the Heat have looked
like the better team through the first 2 rounds of these playoffs.  Both the Bulls and the Heat dispatched their
first-round opponent in 5 games, but the Heat beat the Philadelphia 76ers who
were considered a significantly better team than the Pacers.  In the second-round, the Bulls often
struggled to get past the lightly-regarded Hawks, while it only took the Heat 5
games to take out the Celtics, considered by some to be a legitimate
championship contender.  James and Wade
have been brilliant in these playoffs, each averaging 26 points and 5 assists
per game.  Lebron has stepped up his
rebounding, grabbing 9.4 per game and Wade pulled down nearly 8 boards per
game...eye-popping for a guard.  Bosh has
provided solid support, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds.

The second reason the Heat are favored is that many believe
that the regular season was nothing more than a long and tedious pre-requisite
to what this team was built for...winning championships.  This is why James left Cleveland and Bosh
left Toronto.  It's why all 3 of the Heat's
stars took less than the max money each would have received if financial
considerations were put at the forefront. 
The Heat trio is superbly-talented and highly-motivated.  The playoffs are where the stars truly shine
and it remains unarguable that the Heat lead the NBA in star power.  They simply will not be denied...it's their
destiny.

So who else plays for
the Heat?

It's a fair question, and since Heat Head Coach Eric
Spoelstra is allowed to put 5 players out on the floor, he probably will.  The Heat's supporting cast is pretty much
made up of two types of players - big guys who try to set screens, rebound,
block shots and not shoot and little guys who hang out at the 3-point line
waiting for a wide open shot.

Leading the big guys is 6-9 center Joel Anthony, an
undrafted free agent who has been with the Heat since the '07-'08 season.  He'll pull down some rebounds for them (5.7
per game in the playoffs), but his thing is blocking shots...he leads the Heat
with 16 in the 10 Heat playoff games. 
Zydrunas Ilgauskas is 7-3 and was once a heckuva player, making 2 All
Star game appearances back in the day.  After
12 years in Cleveland, 7 of them playing alongside James, he signed with the
Heat on a minimum salary contract (over a $10million pay cut...yes, he's the
prototypical "ring-chaser).  He was never
fast, but he's stunningly slow at age 35, but he can still hit the occasional open
jumper if you leave him open.  At age 38,
6-9 forward/center Juwan Howard certainly has experience on his side.  The Heat are Howard's 8th NBA
team, though in truth he's played for several of those 8 more than once.  Look for him to play about 7 minutes/game and
set a couple screens...sad, but that's what it's come down to for Howard.  Lastly, there's Udonis Haslem.  Haslem may be the Heat's 4th-best
player, but has been sidelined with a foot injury since November.  He made his return in the Heat's game 4 win
in Boston and played 3 minutes of hideous basketball earning him a DNP-CD (did
not play-coach's decision) in the deciding game 5.  Haslem could be a "wild card" in the series
with the Bulls.

Of the little guys, Mario Chalmers and recently-acquired
veteran Mike Bibby will get most of the point guard minutes, but don't expect
much in the way of playmaking from them...they're in the lineup to occasionally
bring the ball up the court and then wait at the perimeter if needed.  Chalmers can defend some.  Bibby hardly even tries anymore.  If neither Chalmers nor Bibby are hitting
their 3s, Spoelstra may send journeyman chucker Eddie House into the game for a
heat-check.

One Heat bench player who doesn't fit either of the 2
categories is 6-8 forward James Jones. 
Jones is a good 3-point shooter who has been very good in these
playoffs.  He was on fire in game 1 of
the Celtics series, knocking down 5 of 7 treys and scoring 25 points...he
actually outscored James by 3.  Rounding
out the Heat bench is veteran 6-8 small forward Mike Miller.  By design, Miller should be the Heat's #4
player (he's the 4th-highest paid) and resident 3-point marksman
(40% for his career), but has had an injury-plagued season.  Jones has pretty much taken over Miller's
role on the team.

Matchups

This figures to be a very non-traditional series matchup-wise.  For the Bulls, Luol Deng figures to be on
James nearly all the time and Carlos Boozer will likely be assigned to defend
the Heat's non-shooting big man (mostly Anthony and Ilgauskas).  Beyond that it'll probably be a mix and match
situation.  Wade figures to see mostly
Bogans and Brewer, but Derrick Rose may guard him as well, particularly when
Kyle Korver is in the game with Rose. 
Noah figures to have Bosh.  This
figures to be a much better defensive series for Korver since, as has been
mentioned, the Heat almost always have someone in their lineup whose job it is
to hang out at the 3-point line...that's your guy, Kyle.

For the Heat, the obvious key is to stop Rose.  Rose will probably start out being defended
by Chalmers, with Wade on Bogans.  This
leaves Wade will be free to provide aggressive weakside help, one of many
things at which he excels.  Wade will
also defend Rose and particularly late in games, James will take his turn in an
effort to get Derrick to give up the ball. 
Boozer could be defended by either Anthony or Bosh, but if Boozer gets
hot, it'll be Anthony (the better defender).

In the interest of
full disclosure

I don't like the Heat, but most of all I don't like Lebron
James.  He's a magnificent basketball
player, the most talented on the planet, but first and foremost he's an actor
playing the Lebron role in an effort to increase the market share of the "Lebron
brand."  I should point out here that,
unlike most James-haters, I didn't like him in his last few years with the
Cavaliers.

Watching him on and off the court, I often wonder how long James
rehearses his myriad facial expressions. 
I particularly enjoy his "determination" and "astonishment" looks...the
latter can be seen every time he either misses an inside shot (I was fouled) or
is called for a foul (Are U Serious?).  I
honestly believe that James brushes his teeth as if he's on camera.  Great player and totally self-absorbed,
narcissistic douchebag.

I also don't like Chris Bosh, but again it's for reasons
that are different from many.  I really
liked his game in Toronto and believed that in his last season there he was on
the brink of superstardom (24 points, 11 rebounds and a superstar-level 25.0
Player Efficiency Rating...Wade posted a 25.6 PER this season).  Why oh why would a 25-year old kid with that
kind of talent turn himself into a "ring-chaser?"  What a freakin' waste.

I actually like Dwayne Wade and believe Chicago fans have
treated him harshly.  Did he use the
Bulls for leverage last summer?  Almost
certainly.  I might have done the same
thing in his shoes.  I like him because
he's a tough-minded competitor who is a basketball player first and a pitchman only
in his spare time.

Oh yeah, I've always hated Pat Reilly.

Conclusion

Buckle up, kids...this series is going to be an "E" ticket
ride, or as the kids say, "Epic."  I've
heard many opine that this series will determine the future 5 years of the NBA
Eastern Conference, but I wouldn't go that far. 
However, the Heat and the Bulls figure to be elite teams for the foreseeable
future and one of them is going to walk away from this one with a mental edge.

For each team, the last time they took the court, they were had
what could be viewed as "statement victories," yet some belittled their
achievements.  The Heat had their
emotional home win over the Celtics, but some pointed out that the Celts were
handicapped by their one-armed point guard, Rajon Rondo.  The Bulls totally dominated the Hawks in Atlanta,
but some said that the Hawks lackluster effort in front of their home fans just
proved that they remain nothing more but pretenders.  As for me, they looked like two elite teams
doing what they needed to do when they needed to do it.

I find myself compelled to pick the Bulls in 7.  The fact that I'm a Bulls' fan and also
having a genuine dislike for the Heat undoubtedly have entered into my
thinking.  Also, my coaching bias tells
me that a well-coached team can overcome superior talent (y'all saw Hoosiers,
didn't ya?).  I'm convinced that
Thibodeau is the better coach, or at least the coach who is allowed by his
players to do the better coaching job.

I can't wait for this one to start.

Tom Nossem

Comments

Leave a comment
  • Disagree about Wade:
    1. He is the a bigger farce than LeBron. Haven't you seen him whine about every call?
    2. He lied and talked false things about an organization(Bulls) and his kids to get leverage of FA process. It was un-ethical and worse than some of the things LeBron did. Although, it is tough to decide who is worse. MJ, Malone, Ewing all had issues but LeBron/Wade seem to have picked up all the bad things from the previous era superstars and taken it to a new level.
    2. Actually, I am very scared of Joel Anthony and James Jones. I am confident they will not have big games through-out the series but will have one or two good games. If those games happen to be those momentum changing crucial games, it is trouble.
    3. Referring is the most important thing. Wade complains so much that I think his strategy is if you keep complaining the referee will give the all-important calls in the 4th quarter after getting harassed.

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    sorry for the mistakes..I wish there was an edit or preview before posting.

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    Great post-very detailed-a great recap of all that has built up to this showdown. This is probably a stupid comment but I almost wish we had lost to the Heat once during the season-now we will have had to beat them 7 out of at most 10 games...which seems daunting. However when you get past the star power, and the hoopla-we still have the coach, we still have the bench, we still have the defense, and we still have a player in Derrick Rose whose insatiable hunger to win fuels it all. It's gonna be fun to say the least.

    Now a shameless plug
    Derrick Rose is better than LeBron James-Here's why

    http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/offhanded-dribble/2011/05/derrick-rose-vs-lebron-james-a-comparison.html

  • In reply to koolking83:

    Nothing wrong with pluggin your own stuff!

  • In reply to coachskiles:

    that's what she said

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    I just don't get it...everywhere I turn all I see is how the Bull have to be more than perfect in order to win. Did we make it this far by luck? Should an asterisk go up next to this season the way people are quick to do when San Antonio won during a 50 game season? Are the games played on paper? How about we look a few things that I think work in our favor.

    The deminsions of the court will be the same as they always are. There is no new 12 foot rim. Just like us, Miami can only pu 5 players on the court at one time. Thing 1 & Thing 2 can not & will not play the ENTIRE game. We do have homecourt advantage. All the rules are the same (except for maybe calling a travel on Thing 2). The Bulls didn't lose more than 2 games in a row all season. Whenever it came anything close to a game that the team "had" to win-they did that. They proved they could play with anybody. Were rarely out of any game...and did it all while being IMO an incomplete team. We have seen the flashes of whats capable when this team is healthy and those performances were dominating. And to be perfectly honest, we have second guessed Thibs all year on the Bogans thing...seems to be working out to me. We have in Derrick Rose a player with the drive and killer instict it takes to win...something yet to be found in Thing 2 for all of his glory.

    We act as though the games have already been scripted. Will Miami NOT have any bad games? I guess they won't have a game where they commit a high number of turnovers. So much for that Chicago defense huh? And the Bulls bench? There is no way they are gonna come in and out play the Musketeers... rite? What really separates us from them is that the Bulls play for each other, Miami plays for themselves. That whole "I knew I couldn't beat this team by myself" statement was the biggest slap in a teammates face I have ever seen because I could have sworn I saw FIVE Cavelier jerseys on the court.

    Oh, and one more thing before I go...I saw (again) the mention of these guys taking "less" money to play in Miami. Can we please stop making them out to be some sort of financial sacraficing heros? If I'm not mistaken, there is no income tax in th sunshine state...so in reality, there are really making more...

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    I guess maybe it's two things before I go....for all that talk about how the regular season don't mean anything and how the playoffs are so much different....try telling that to the New York Giants of a few seasons back...I know it maybe a different sport but the principle is the same. Everyone handed the Pats the trophy in the beginning of the playoffs and everybody else was just wasting time. But the Giants knew they could run with those boys because of what? Their performance in THE REGULAR SEASON. They took from that REGULAR SEASON game and was probably the on 53 guys in the universe who understood they had a real chance.

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    That was a fantastic comment. So right in everything you said-none of the analysis thus far has really been about what Miami has to do to beat us-but, as you said, what we must do-bordering on perfect play-to beat them. I get it to a degree-don't get me wrong, they're intimidating, even if we beat them 5 or 10 times in the regular season, I'd still be nervous. But if we just play our game, defense, good bench play, rebounding, we'll be good-essentially be good where Miami is not.(the latter two) Awesome comment friend

  • In reply to koolking83:

    I do realize the Miami is playing better than at stretches during the season. But the games still have to be played. I don't expect to see the Bulls just roll over. It just amazes me how the media has turned every team left in the playoffs into a JV squad now that Miami has beaten Boston. Speaking of, Boston rolled the dice and shipped out Perkins thinkin Shaq would be able to give them something.....anything. In hindsight maybe not the best move. For Boston to win, Rondo had to basically be...well, Rondo and he wasn't. I like our chances, even after reading the Daily Dime over on ESPN.com. According to them, it seems like not only do we not have a shot, but we shouldn't even suit up.

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    Screw them man, they will see after game 1

  • In reply to koolking83:

    I think Miami is the team that has to play nearly perfect, ie have 2/3 stars going off together while playing against great defense & rebounding. And the rebounding is huge. You take a look at those numbers by James and Wade and they look impressive on paper, but they were against a very mediocre and a very terrible rebounding team in rounds 1 & 2.

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    I'd have Boozer on Bosh some, leaving our best help defenders, Noah & Asik free to slide over & challenge some shots. Plus, this would encourage Miami to go away from James & Wade to work Bosh.

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    and if Bogans isn't hitting his 3 early, I'd like to see more Korver, as you note his D won't hurt as much this series, and it would keep Wade from playing free safety and getting out in transition.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    plus Wade is extremely good at closing on shots, and Bogans' release takes longer than the itchy triggered Korver

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    the downside is then you likely have Rose and Wade, and you want to keep him out of foul trouble.

    Just speake to the highly untraditional matchups you speak of. Going to be a crazy series in many regards, esp. this one.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    hopefully Kyle is over his little shooting slump. And Bogans doesn't have to light it up...just keep making 1 or 2......or 3 a game. His scoring is found money and honestly I wouldn't care if he scored a single point as long as he made life miserable for Wade on defense.

    I don't expect to see Wade/James on Rose unless it's tight down the stretch in the fourth. Any other time, it takes away their ability to play help defense.

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    These games are going to be decided in the 4th quarter and probably in the last 5 minutes. While I agree that Spoelstra will hold off on putting Wade/James on Rose, he's going to do it and when he does, the result will determine the outcome.

  • In reply to Nossem:

    I hope I don't sound too contridictory here but I have watched this team all season, the only things that worries me is how we come out at the beginning of the 1st and 3rd periods...which is where I think the game will be won or lost

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    me too, but it doesn't worry me nearly as much when we play the top level teams, and its no coincidence that we are 11-0 against them over our last 11

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    you will see Chalmers on him, but I highly doubt you'll see Bibby

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    and I'm sick of the money thing too. How much less are they actually taking? Its really not that much, esp b/c of Florida's lack of state tax.

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    +1 mil

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    In this article, I laid out why the Heat are favored over the Bulls, but I really didn't attempt to answer a basic question - what about the Heat has changed to make everyone think that they're now this "juggernaut" that the national media believes them to be?

    This Heat team was considered unbeatable before they played a freakin' game. They stumbled out of the gate and the media backed off. Then at a couple different points during the season, they had long winning streaks and they were again invincible.

    Seems to me that a lot of the national media types are trying to justify their pre-season predictions of the Heat as this incredible 73+ win team. To me, the Heat are what they've been. They're damn good because James is the most talented player on the planet, Wade is top-5 and Bosh is top-20. No one else on the Heat has emerged as an above average player (though Jones had one great game). Both Haslem and Miller, who are good players, have had disappointing recoveries from their injuries.

    Net, the Heat are no more or less unbeatable than they've been all season. I expect them to be more focused in the playoffs, but I expect the Bulls to be equally focused.

    The Heat couldn't prove themselves a better team than the Bulls in the regular season and I don't get why virtually every national "expert" is picking the Heat in this series.

  • In reply to Nossem:

    They pick the Heat because that's the "safe" bet when looking at this team on paper. They are supposed to be unbiased but at the same time they don't want to look like fools by going against the grain. And this way, they can just say the Bulls upset Miami. For the people who only look at box scores, you have Bogans, Brewer, Asik, Watson, and sometimes even Boozer and they say "wow, these guys suck". But all season long the rotational players have done so many of the little things that don't show up in the box score that have helped us get to this point.

  • In reply to HollywoodKole:

    They pick the Heat because it's safe and easy, and they haven't studied the Bulls all season like we have. They don't know how well we've lifted our game against elite teams all year long. They don't know how well we beat them all three times, close scores notwithstanding, I remember feeling confident at the end of all three. They don't know just how well our defense can flummox the best offensive players.

    Unfortunately, WE don't know if we can raise our game to that level consistently, like we haven't all season, to win four against this elite team now. Bring it on, been waiting for this since last, July! Great article, Tom. Share 23, HK!

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    2) As I recall, Wade's only anti-Bulls comment was that the Bulls "didn't take care of their own". He was talking mostly about Pippen, but somewhat about the fact that Jordan never got a gig with the Bulls. It was an uninformed and stupid comment which he later (after having the facts of the Bulls' exceptional record of employing former players explined to him) retracted. Dwayne ain't all that bright and we should cut him some slack.

    2 (you had 2 twos) Hate to steal the line from Stacey, but if you're scared of Anthony and Jones, you should buy a dog. Anthony's a nice defensive player who has neither an interest in scoring nor the ability to score. Jones has been in the league for 8 years. Do you ever remember anyone saying how great James Jones is? Me neither. The NBA is chock-ful of guys who can make open 3-pointers. Jones has made 44.4% of his 3s in these playoffs. Keith Bogans has made 48.7% of his. Do you think that the Heat are all hot and bothered about Bogans. Me neither.

  • Great article!

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