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Bulls Tue Oct 29 2013

Looking Out For Number 1

Bulls_200.pngWith Tom Thibodeau calling the shots and Derrick Rose running the floor, the Chicago Bulls are the two-time Eastern Conference regular season champions.

Yes, there's technically no such thing as the Eastern Conference regular season championship -- it's commonly called the top seed, and conquering that sometimes torturous 82-game stretch has been the Bulls' calling card two of the last three seasons.

The Bulls want and need a better reputation: to be the team that takes down the big, bad (but so good) Miami Heat in the postseason.

But first, they need to again be the regular season beast in the East.

The instances where the Heat have shown they're beatable has also defined their greatness in Miami's resilience and ability to perform under pressure. The fact remains: the Heat aren't impervious to defeat.

That's where the Indiana Pacers come in. They pushed the Heat to seven games in last season's Eastern Conference finals and six games in the semifinals two years ago. The Pacers are now a real threat to Miami, Chicago and the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Winning the regular season's number one seed has never been more important. Ultimately, the Bulls will have to take down the Heat (or the Pacers for that matter) if the team wants to get to the NBA Finals. But why not let Miami and Indiana beat up on each other for six or seven semifinal games before meeting the Bulls for the right to go to the NBA Finals?

Let's face it, beating the Heat takes a perfect storm. By winning the top seed, the Bulls are looking at a first round match-up with an inexperienced team like Washington, Detroit or Cleveland. The semifinals shake out with either an old Brooklyn team or the one-dimensional New York Knicks.

These are teams that Chicago takes down in five, maybe six games and rest up while Miami plays through a physically tough series against Indiana.

If healthy, the Bulls pose the biggest threat to stopping a Heat three-peat. Look no further than Tuesday night's season opener when Miami and Chicago face off. The stage is set for Rose's regular season return, LeBron James adds to his jewelry collection and the Heat raise the franchise's third championship banner.

"The moment of truth is coming," said Thibodeau on Friday night to following the completion of an undefeated pre-season.

Although it's been considered a potential pitfall, the fact that Thibodeau treats every regular season game like game seven of the NBA Finals plays into Chicago's hand.

"We are sacrificing the small things for a big reward, and we hope one day that big reward is a championship," said forward Taj Gibson to

The Bulls-Heat opener could prove to be very symmetrical - not only will it be the beginning, but one team will likely end the other's season come June.

But first, the quest for an Eastern Conference regular season championship begins.

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