NBA Playoff Preview - Miami vs, Chicago
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
Miami Heat : 1st Seed, East (66-16)
Chicago Bulls : 5th Seed, East (45-37)
(Sports Network) - The Miami Heat have been idle for a week, but they'll need to get back to business, starting Monday night when they take on the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Heat swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, while the Bulls took a decisive Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night.
"We want to get back at it," said LeBron James, who reportedly will win his fourth MVP. "We're looking forward to Monday night's game."
While this matchup won't be confused with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the Heat and Bulls have built something of a rivalry this season.
The Bulls ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak, which was the second- longest in NBA history. After the setback, James bemoaned the pounding he took from the Bulls, especially two specific fouls, one from Kirk Hinrich and one from Taj Gibson.
"Those are not basketball plays and it's been happening all year," James said after the loss. "I've been able to keep my cool and try to tell Spo (head coach Erik Spoelstra), 'Let's not worry about it too much,' but it is getting to me a little bit."
James shook it off en route to another MVP, the best record in the league and a sweep in round one.
The Heat hope to have gotten healthier during their week away. Dwyane Wade didn't play in the series clincher on Saturday against Milwaukee with a bruised knee. He is expected to be ready.
The Bulls aren't really interested in hearing about injury problems.
On top of missing former MVP Derrick Rose, Hinrich didn't play in the final three games of the Nets series. Luol Deng missed the final two games. Both players' availability is unknown for Game 1.
"We've dealt with adversity all year. Our team has the belief that we can win every night," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "We've been short handed and guys have stepped up."
First among them has been Joakim Noah. Battling plantar fascitis, Noah has been a warrior this postseason and registered a double-double in the series finale.
"Before this series I did not know if I was going to be able to play," said Noah. "I could barely walk. To be in this situation now and win a Game 7 like this in front of my family in Brooklyn. I'll remember this for the rest of my life."
Now, Noah and the Bulls will be decided underdogs against the defending NBA Champions.
"That's our rivalry," said Chicago forward Taj Gibson. "Words can't express how bad we want to beat them."
BACKCOURT: A healthy Wade is vital for the Heat's success. By all accounts, he's ready to go in Game 1 and should be counted on for huge success. Mario Chalmers' scoring is down in the postseason, but you can always count on him to bury an important 3-pointer.
If Hinrich is good to go, the Bulls are complete. He was a battler in the Brooklyn series and the Bulls missed something with him out of the lineup. A healthy Deng means Jimmy Butler will go back to the two-guard spot. In Deng's absence, Butler played all 48 minutes in Games 6 and 7.
FRONTCOURT: James is clearly the best player in the world. His all-around game in unmatched. He was fantastic against the Bucks with averages of 24.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 6.8 apg. James is on another planet right now. Chris Bosh's scoring is down in the postseason and he has become a jump-shooter primarily. Udonis Haslem is in the role-player portion of his career.
No matter how much people hate him, Carlos Boozer is one tough pro. In the postseason, Boozer is averaging 17.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg. He's played the most minutes for a Bulls' team that has seen its top guys log a ton of minutes. Noah is a force, but Deng is key. If he can go, he'll be tasked with covering James. No one can stop James, but Deng is an All-Defensive player and can give it a better chance than most. His health is huge if the Bulls are going to have any remote chance.
BENCH: Miami's Ray Allen is the best player off the bench on either team. He is actually second on the Heat in playoff scoring and is shooting 46 percent from the 3-point line. Shane Battier is a glue guy for the Heat and plays the significant minutes in crunch time. Chris Anderson has been a major contributor for the Heat in the postseason, averaging 8.3 ppg.
If healthy, the Bulls bench is solid. Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Gibson and Nazr Mohammed are all critical to Chicago's success. Problem is, most of them are logging heavy minutes because of the Bulls' injuries.
COACHING: Spoelstra has done such an understatedly brilliant job with the Heat. His decision to essentially abandon conventional positions in the name of playing his best five guys no matter where they play, transformed the Heat into the team they are now.
Thibodeau is just a genius. He won Coach of the Year, finished second the next year and should be a fixture atop the voting. Without Rose, Thibodeau has managed a group of hard-working, defense-first guys into a team no one wants to play. Every Bulls players bought into Thibodeau's system and they play harder than anyone in the NBA.
PREDICTION: The Bulls have been an amazing story in this postseason. They've overcome injury, illness and anything else the world can throw at them. Depleted as they were, the Bulls won a Game 7 on the road and showed the heart of a champion.
Problem is, Miami is waiting.
The Heat barely broke a sweat in knocking off the Bucks. Chicago is infinitely better than Milwaukee, but an undermanned Bulls team can't contend with the Heat.
If Deng and Hinrich are out, or ineffective, the Heat can count on more rest later in the week. If both play, the Bulls will give Miami a solid test.
SPORTSNETWORK PREDICITION: MIAMI in 5.
05/05 11:12:10 ET