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Bulls Fri May 13 2011
The Bulls are back in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 13 years, set to open a best-of-seven series against the surging Miami Heat on Sunday night at the United Center.
As good as Derrick Rose & Co. have been this season -- most recently in Thursday's decisive Game 6 in Atlanta -- it's hard not to give the Heat a slight edge initially after seeing them handle Boston in five games. Twelve of 14 ESPN experts picked Miami to win the series -- which is not to suggest, oversensitive Bulls fans, that Chicago cannot win this series, but simply that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are probably the best two players in the league, with all due respect to Rose's achievements this season.
There is a strong possibility this will not be the most beautiful team basketball we've ever seen, given the ability and propensity of Rose, James and Wade to simply explode to the basket seemingly at will. You won't, on balance, see the five-man ball played by Boston or Dallas at their best. But with both teams closing out the semifinals in peak form, every game should be a must-see event.
Nine more scattered thoughts:
1. Yes, the Bulls won all three of their meetings with Miami this season. No, that doesn't really mean anything. Both teams are different now, especially a Heat team that is using vastly different lineups these days.
2. Very few teams have anyone who can stay in front of Rose, but Miami point guards Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers will get positively torched if they try to guard him. There's little chance Dwyane Wade won't draw the assignment during the biggest moments of the game, if not throughout.
3. This should settle the 2011 MVP debate once and for all. LeBron still is the game's most dominant player, but if Rose can carry the Bulls into the NBA Finals, it'll be hard to deny him every last shred of glory.
4. Carlos Boozer vs. Chris Bosh is a delightful matchup of perhaps the two most frustrating power forwards in the league. It's not entirely fair to call them underachievers, but it would certainly be nice to see one or both of them step up in this series. Boozer took a big step in that direction last night.
5. I'm excited to see what Luol Deng, one of the game's most underrated players, can do defensively against LeBron. He's got as good a chance as anyone to slow him down a bit.
6. The Bulls' 10-man rotation worked wonders at times against the Hawks' much shorter bench, and it's hard to see that not being a significant edge for Chicago again in this series. Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver have all had big moments in the playoffs.
7. The center matchup between Joakim Noah and Joel Anthony should be a nice battle between two of the league's most active big men. (Boy, I'm fond of superlatives today.) Neither is especially skilled -- though Noah continues to distinguish himself as a passer -- but they make up for it with indefatigable hard work.
8. How will Chicago receive Wade, their basketball ex-boyfriend? Here's guessing the Robbins native gets some love and LeBron gets all the hate.
9. Reasonable minds can disagree on the distastefulness (or awesomeness?) of LeBron, Wade and Bosh joining forces to chase championships, but please, don't let them tell you it's no different than what Boston did in assembling the triumvirate of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Miami's three were free agents in the prime of their careers; Boston's were potential (or sure-fire) Hall of Famers, to be sure, but all closer to the end of the line than the beginning. The Celtics took on significantly more risk. They did it "the right way" by building up a cache of young talent and trading multiple pieces for two singular stars, instead of simply using the sun, sand and nightlife of Miami as a lure. And of course, they kicked things off with a team-bonding trip, not a grotesque exercise in premature coronation.