The Miami Heat are prepared to run right through the banged up Chicago Bulls.
The Miami Heat come into the second round of the playoffs on a full week’s rest prepared to face the hobbled, but inspired Chicago Bulls. The world champions dispatched the 8th seed Milwaukee Bucks in four games — allowing time for rest and treatments.
The Bulls survived a seven game war with the Brooklyn Nets. Nate Robinson continued to carry the offense, but the Bulls defense remains the team’s calling card. Joakim Noah is playing like a man on a mission despite suffering from plantar fasciitis. Injuries to Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich have left the Bulls with major uncertainties going into this series.
Season series tied 2-2.
Chicago’s Nate Robinson made the Brooklyn Nets sick in their grueling seven game series. Robinson — who is with his sixth team averaged 17 points per game in the Nets series. Robinson’s play went from improbable to simply heroic. In Game 4, Robinson refused to let the Bulls fall in the 142-134 triple-overtime classic. The health of Kirk Hinrich is critical for the Bulls. Hinrich missed Games 5-7 and remains questionable for Game 1. Marco Belinelli gave a boost to the Bulls back court. In Game 7, Belinelli led all scorers with 24 points. It would be nice to have Hinrich back, but Belinelli is capable of stepping in.
Dwyane Wade needed a week’s rest more than any player in this series. The ten-year veteran played 33 minutes per game for three games. He averaged a career-playoff low of 14 points in the Milwaukee series. It was obvious Wade was in cruise control and just wanted to get out of the series in one piece. I’ll be watching closely to how he responds to the physical play of the Bulls. Wade’s minutes and durability should be a concern. Mario Chalmers averaged 29 minutes per game in the Milwaukee series. He’ll be much busier in this series after drawing the assignment of slowing down Nate Robinson.
Luol Deng is out for Game One due to complications from a spinal tap. The Bulls have no one to guard LeBron James without the services of Deng and face being swept. Prior to the spinal tap, Deng averaged 14 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Deng logged an average of 45 minutes per game in the first round. If the Bulls are to have a chance, Deng has to get back in a hurry. Carlos Boozer went toe-to-toe in the paint with Reggie Evans and Brook Lopez. Boozer shined in the first round averaging 16 points and 10 boards. Boozer stayed away from the perimeter, shooting 55 percent from the floor. The Bulls will need more from Boozer due to the uncertainty of Deng’s availability. If Deng is unable to go, Thibodeau has enough confidence to go with Jimmy Butler.
LeBron James was just named NBA MVP for the fourth time in five seasons. If the Bulls are going to be without Luol Deng for an extended period there’s no reason the Heat should not head into the Eastern Conference Finals 8-0. James was the Heat’s Swiss Army Knife in the opening round averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. You can add in a steal for good measure. James took an average of 15 shots against the Bucks — shooting 63 percent from the floor. Udonis Haslem is Miami’s junkyard dog — who should be ready to go in this series after banging with a young, physical Milwaukee Bucks front court.
The value of Joakim Noah to the Chicago Bulls cannot be measured in points or rebounds. He is the leader of this team — with or without Derrick Rose. Noah played 31 minutes per game in the Brooklyn series with plantar fasciitis — starting all seven games. Noah’s numbers were what we expected, 11 points and 10 rebounds per contest. Noah only shot 45 percent from the floor, but shined at the defensive end adding three blocks per game (playoff leader). If anyone is going to keep the Bulls in this series, it will be Noah. Drawing the assignment of Chris Bosh — who plays away from the basket will test Noah’s feet.
Chris Bosh continues to be solid. Bosh played a great defensive series against the Bucks. Bosh has played well at center this season averaged two blocks per game in the opening round. Bosh is averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds and will have his hands full with Noah.
Chris Andersen is an infusion of energy capable of picking up a team after a long layoff. Andersen averaged 8 points, 5 rebounds with and assist, block and steal in just 14 minutes of play. Mike Miller and Ray Allen are well rested but fresh at the same time if that makes any sense. The Heat are deep with veterans Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis. All hands are on deck as Norris Cole, Joel Anthony and James Jones are available.
Chicago’s Taj Gibson is the Bulls answer to Andersen. Gibson is a player who hovers around the basket and capable of providing offense. Marquis Teague and Daquan Cook provide relief in the backcourt. The rugged Nazr Mohammed comes ready to contribute whenever his number is called — ready to maximize his six fouls.
Erik Spoelstra has slowly taken on the persona of his boss Pat Riley. He can no longer be looked at as a novelty who happens to coach the Miami Heat. He has become part coach, part psychologist with his hands firmly on the pulse of his team.
If Tom Thibodeau win NBA Coach of the Year again this season, I’ll be the first to stand and applaud. Throughout injuries and the Derrick Rose drama, Thibodeau’s Bulls have put their head down and played. This team’s toughness cannot be overlooked. He will have his team prepared for each game in this series.
The injury to Luol Deng cannot be emphasized enough. Without him, Chicago is unable to replace his contributions at both ends of the floor. With him the team is more relaxed and capable of making this a series. Though they are out-manned in this series, Chicago knows how to beat Miami. When they ended the Heat’s 27-game win streak, the Bulls employed a physical brand of basketball — which seemed to rattle Miami just a bit. At the same time, the Bulls don’t need to be overly physical, if they can remain within their scheme they’ll be fine.
Miami is playing at another, their best chance for a loss may be tonight. I’ve seen some great performances the night the MVP receives his award in front of the home crowd. Tonight and the series belong to LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Heat in six.