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 -
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
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
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
So who else plays for
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
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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.