It’s a clash of Eastern Conference giants everyone wanted to see and now that the Miami Heat have finished off their hated rivals the Boston Celtics, their reward is facing the first seeded Chicago Bulls in Chicago.
OK, so maybe everyone thought the Heat and Celtics would face off in the Eastern Conference Finals but this matchup certainly has a lot of interesting subplots regardless to make for plenty of drama over the course of several days.
Before the NBA Draft Lottery in 2008 when the Heat had the best odds of landing the top pick, Dwayne Wade made no secret of his desire to pair up with fellow Chicago native Derrick Rose in a back court that could have instantly vaulted the Heat into championship contention.
Instead, the Bulls secured the top spot with a 1.7 percent chance of winning the lottery.
Payback came two years later, with both teams having plenty of cap room to secure the services from a top free agent class. This time it was the Bulls who didn’t get what they wanted as they were turned down by Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The Heat’s consolation prize from the ’08 Draft, Michael Beasley, was promptly sent packing in order to make room for Pat Riley’s free agency shopping spree.
That’s all in the past now and both teams are now at the top of the Eastern Conference and look to stay that way for future seasons to come.
Both have defensive-minded coaches that have spent several years as assistant coaches learning their craft and have expertly guided their talented teams through a long season to be just four victories away from reaching the NBA Finals.
The pressure is squarely on the Bulls and their MVP in their first true test of the playoffs after intermittently struggling against the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks. Now they must try to not just match the offensive firepower of the Big 3 but Rose will now be guarded by Wade and even James in crunch time as he must create for his teammates and look to attack the rim against the Heat’s limited frontline. Luol Deng needs to continue his strong play against the Heat during the regular season where he averaged 16.7 points against them, good for second best on the Bulls, and Carlos Boozer has to put his early struggles in the playoffs behind him so both can provide enough support for Rose. Their superior bench must also produce in order to take advantage of a clear edge they enjoy over the Heat.
For the Heat, Chris Bosh will seek to put his struggles behind him to help give the Heat a dynamic offensive game-plan against the league’s toughest defense. Expect a fair share of iso-plays where long jumpers will be hoisted by James and Wade if the Heat can’t properly attack the Bulls, normally a death sentence for them unless those difficult shots are actually hitting nothing but the net as they did in the final two games against the Celtics in crunch time.
No, there won’t be much triple-digit scoring with the Bulls ranking first in the league in defensive field goal percentage (43%) and second in defensive scoring (91.3) and the Heat also ranked high in just about every team defensive category. But with so many highlight-producing players in Rose, Wade and James there won’t be a lack of fireworks either.
In the end, Rose’s brilliance must transcend his individual game to lead a total team effort and it will be a tough task for a team with practically no experience at this stage of the season. Time will quickly tell whether he’s up to the challenge and, even if he is, whether it will be enough against the Heat, who are playing their best basketball just in time to make their lofty predictions last summer look like a reality.