Tag:2011 EC Conference finals
Posted on: May 13, 2011 8:07 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 9:54 pm
 

What's At Stake: LeBron James

What's at stake for Miami Heat forward LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.




What’s at stake for LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals? Only the world, Chico, and everything in it.

James played two of the best minutes the NBA has ever seen to eliminate the Boston Celtics, stopping only long enough to kneel on the court, to take a moment to appreciate all that he had accomplished in overcoming his bitter rivals. The only problem, of course, is that he is still just halfway to a title. Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls are capable of evaporating everything James has earned in the past 48 hours – confidence, peace of mind, a feeling of accomplishment, validation for his decision to leave Cleveland, a rush of popularity – by defeating the Heat. If James doesn’t emerge from this summer with a ring, he’ll be back at square one, hearing the same old boos and answering the same old questions he dealt with all season long.

This all-or-nothing conundrum probably isn’t fair to James but he should be used to it by now. He has demanded attention since he was in high school. He has ascended to the pinnacle of his sport, the undisputed best all-around player in the NBA. He’s even made it to the Finals before. None of that has mattered to his critics. And, we came to find out last summer, to him either.

Winning his first championship -- with others to follow -- was his stated goal. He’s reiterated multiple times over the past week that the Celtics helped inspire his decision to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He couldn’t beat Boston alone, he admitted. Securing the best shot to climb the mountain won out over hometown loyalty, the biggest paycheck and any other factors. That’s the narrative he’s crafted, that's the script he's reading from.

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls

The Heat envision themselves as the future of the NBA, the axis that everyone else spins around, the epicenter of both cool and success, a dynasty in the making. In James' mind, he's the protagonist always.

A loss to the Bulls, then, would amount to an identity crisis. Being beaten by a team with just one All-Star? A team that had won one playoff series in the past 12 seasons combined? It would be not only an embarrassment but also worrisome. Chicago’s core is set in place for the foreseeable future. Their coach is one of the most widely respected in the game. They’re deep, disciplined and hard-working. They’ve got big city cachet and an instant likeability among both casual fans and basketball purists. The Heat would be set back, back to being the villains, back to being the foils. 

Wade already has a ring to console himself. Bosh has admitted to being in a bit over his head already during the playoffs, so he would be able to rationalize away such a loss. Coach Erik Spoelstra has demonstrated an ability to maintain a long-term perspective through adversity, so he’d be alright in the event of a loss too. He would beat himself up but then realize that there are plenty more opportunities ahead. Pat Riley has so much hardware and such a great tan nothing really matters at this point of his career, at least not comparatively.

But James? James would be out of excuses for another year. Left to walk off the court in defeat, his team’s roster-building ability in the hands of the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, his reputation as a player that can’t get it done extended for at least another 12 months. Self-doubt would be back in a big way, the team's top-heavy approach would be questioned, he would have to hit the recruiting trail hard, hoping that the league's elder statesmen could be convinced to sign up at the minimum salary to help him win his ring. Would James have the stomach for all that? The patience? The composure?

james-dunk-celtics 

He’s been the best player in this year’s playoffs, averaging 26.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals while playing more than 43 minutes a night. He’s been clutch. He’s been steady. He’s even been newly flexible, allowing Wade to carry the load when he has it going. He’s shown an admirable commitment to the boards. His level of focus this year is as laser-like as we’ve ever seen, his intensity the exact opposite of what it was a year ago. 

To imagine all of those things wiped away by four losses, just as the vast majority of his previous playoff heroics have been forgotten because he hasn’t secured a title, is a difficult proposition so soon after the triumph over Boston. But that’s what happens if the Bulls win. The pendulum swings that hard. It's happened before, and it’s inevitable.

This might not be his best shot and it certainly won't be his last shot. But, given the remaining teams left in the field, this is a very, very, very good shot. Once Game 1 tips, he, more than anyone else, will be expected to deliver. 

And that’s why the Eastern Conference finals – and the NBA Finals too -- mean more to James than anyone else. His career, reputation, personality and trajectory are subject to a total redefinition and reevaluation with eight more wins. That's why James has the most at stake. Nobody else is a close second.

Posted on: May 13, 2011 5:17 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2011 9:49 pm
 

Bulls-Heat Preview: Clash of the you-know-whats

Posted by Royce Young


I. Intro:  No. 2 seed Miami Heat (58-24) vs. No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls (62-20)

I'd say the people are getting what the people wanted. The starpower of the Heat versus the excellence of the Bulls. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James versus the MVP, Derrick Rose. No matter what happens in the West -- not even if the Lakers somehow resurrect themselves and rematch the Mavericks -- the Eastern Conference Finals are the focus.

Really, if you're not giddy about this series, then you're either a Celtics fan or not reading this.

II. What Happened:  A look at the season series

The Bulls took the season series 3-0, but that's a bit deceiving. In one of those games, LeBron didn't play. And in all three, the margin was just a total of eight points in favor of the Bulls. All the games were close, and all came down to the Bulls basically stopping the Heat from executing in crunch time.

III. Secret of the Series: Officiating

Officiating? Seriously? With all the talent and matchups and storylines, that's what you're going with?

Here's the reason: Between Rose, Wade and LeBron, you've got three of the most difficult players to officiate in the league and three guys that can get to the line 15 times in a game. In key moments against the Celtics, Wade was able to get the whistle and get to the line. Will the same thing happen against the physical, rugged Bulls interior defense? And what about Rose? Can he count on getting calls?

These are two of the very best defensive teams in the league. I'd imagine every game will be finished in the 80s, meaning every point is vital. Baskets will be hard to come by, making free throws worth gold. He who gets to the line the most will have the edge.

IV. The Line-Item Veto:  Who wins each match-up?

PG: I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing too much Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers on Derrick Rose. Most likely Wade gets the call and there's an adjustment for both coaches at shooting guard to try and take advantage. But, regardless, this is where the Bulls trump the Heat in a big way. Rose is far and away more talented than any point guard on the Miami roster and the Heat don't have to guard him. They'll have to adjust, meaning the Bulls have an early upper hand.  Huge advantage, Bulls. 

SG: Keith Bogans is a very good defender. He's physical, strong and can even hit an open 3 if given the opportunity. But, um, Dwyane Wade. There's no contest here. Bogans will do a good job at times checking Wade, but like the Rose matchup, this is a big edge for Miami. Huge advantage, Heat.

SF: We're talking the best small forward in basketball versus a solid role starter. LeBron is much better than Luol Deng, but I'm not afraid to say this is actually a semi-close matchup. Deng has the length, size and strength to hang with LeBron. The easy jumper won't be there when he wants it and Deng's long arms will test LeBron's ball-handling. Obviously LeBron is better, but Deng can guard him. Advantage, Heat.

PF: Already, Carlos Boozer is talking some smack, and saying the Heat only have a Big Two. You'd think that would be motivation for Chris Bosh but, at this point, with all that's been said about him, I'm not even sure Bosh cares. Heck, he admitted it himself not long ago. But this is probably the most intriguing matchup and maybe where the series lies. Two underachieving, yet very talented power forwards that need to provide secondary scoring to help their stars. Who gets the best of it? I have no idea. That's why I'm copping out and saying it's a push.  

C: Bascially what you have here is a high-energy rebounding and defensive-minded center versus a lesser version of himself. Joakim Noah is just a much, much better version of Joel Anthony. Advantage, Bulls.

Bench: Against the Hawks, the Bulls proved that their second unit may be the best in basketball. Taj Gibson came up big. Omer Asik's pick-and-roll defense was tremendous. Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Kurt Thomas and C.J. Watson all gave decent minutes. The Heat on the other hand, don't have much off their pine. Mike Miller is OK, Eddie House is hot and cold, their backup big guys are very meh, and there isn't much offense coming from the bench. Huge advantage, Bulls.  

Coach: I think the coaches are going to play a larger role in this series than one might think. Just deciphering the matchups and figuring out how to counter a move by the other guy will be big. What does Tom Thibodeau do if Wade guards Rose? Does Erik Spoelstra even put Wade on Rose? How does Spoelstra use his bench? Both guys are smart, but young and inexperienced coaches. I don't think either is going to win a game for their team this series, but they could certainly lose one. I just don't know which guy it'll be, so I'm saying push.

V. Conclusion

What we saw from the Heat during the regular season was that, at times, they looked like a machine that was darn near unbeatable. Then, at other times, they were as vulnerable as any team in the league. They had a hard time staying consistent and, thus far in the postseason, they've done so. In late game situations, they've executed.

But the Bulls were a team that gave them major problems during the season. The way Chicago defends, the way the Bulls limit second chance points and the way Rose can dominate, make this a tough matchup. That said, something came out in the Heat during that Celtics series. They looked ready, focused and determined. The Bulls are no doubt prepared for this, but it's two great players against one. And two almost always is better than one. Heat in seven.
Posted on: May 13, 2011 3:18 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2011 4:54 pm
 

Boozer: Heat have 'two great players'



Posted by Matt Moore


 

So that's Carlos Boozer, saying what a lot of people think: the Heat have two great players, not three. He specifically calls out LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, obviously, leaving out Chris Bosh. So that's some nice subtle trash talk, even if it was unintentional.  And as far as it being unintentional? That's unlikely, given the amount of attention all three receive. 

Most people will agree with Boozer, after what we saw in the regular season. But it should be noted that Boozer's catching Bosh coming after a strong performance in both the first and second rounds. Kevin Garnett dominated him in one game, but Bosh got the better of Garnett in the others, and even had a few key strong plays at the rim, including a block and a dunk. It's almost like Bosh is playing like a power forward again.

The matchup between Boozer and Bosh is going to be pivotal in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both players have had their effectiveness questioned. Boozer had a strong Game 6 for Chicago vs. Atlanta, but other than that, has been a no-show in the playoffs, and his defensive liabilities have been spotlighted even more strongly. The Bulls' collective team defense is exceptionally strong, but teams have found if you put Boozer on an island, you can go around, over, and through Boozer pretty easily. Fortunately for the Bulls, they'll have Noah guarding Bosh and limit Boozer's liability by having him guard Joel Anthony. The same weakness was thought of Bosh entering the playoffs, but his part in stepping up for the Heat has been substantial in their ability to hit the next level.

This is the matchup that will probably decide the series. Boozer has already made a statement, obvious or not, of what he thinks of the player he'll be going against.  Now we just need Bosh to say the Bulls only have one great player, and we're set. 

This is going to be fun.

(Via the Miami Herald on Twitter.) 
Posted on: May 13, 2011 1:30 am
Edited on: May 13, 2011 8:41 pm
 

Heat-Bulls: The dream matchup is set

America gets its dream Eastern Conference finals matchup: The Miami Heat vs. the Chicago Bulls. Posted by Ben Golliver.



The 2011 Eastern Conference finals are about to be sliced and diced into pieces, broken down to the most minute detail, but as the Chicago Bulls blew out the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night to advance to face the Miami Heat, the instant take for any basketball fan should have been pure glee. This is the dream matchup. This is exactly who everyone -- especially those who have been watching over the past few months -- wanted to see.

Toss aside the "Good" vs. "Evil", "Humble" vs. "Egocentric" and "Balanced Team" vs. "Superstar Triad" dichotomies, if only for tonight. Take a second to realize that not only are arguably the three most exciting, dynamic, athletic players in the NBA sharing the court, but that two of the top five or so defenses will be out there too. 

In the regular season, Chicago sported the No. 1 defense and the No. 12 offense. In the playoffs, they've had the No. 2 defense and the No. 5 offense. In the regular season, Miami posted the No. 3 offense and the No. 5 defense. In the postseason, Miami has had the No. 3 offense and the No. 3 defense. In the regular season, Chicago led the league in rebounding while Miami was third; in the postseason, Chicago remains No. 1 and Miami has improved to No. 2. 

Chicago led the league in wins (62); Miami was third (58). This is a matchup of elite teams, groups that have played both sides of the ball well since the season started and are peaking at the right time. Consider: Chicago went 8-0 in April while Miami was 6-1. In the playoffs, Chicago is 8-3 while Miami is 8-2. In other words, over the past six weeks Chicago is 16-3 while Miami is 14-3. That's one loss per week -- combined -- for a month a half. 

One final plus: Both teams enter the series healthy, or as healthy as can be expected in mid-May. 

Each team has a guard the other has no answer for: Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade. Each team has an inconsistent power forward who is a national lightning rod: Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh. The Bulls' vaunted defense will surely be tested by LeBron James, but Miami's weak bench will be pushed to its limit by the Bench Mob. 

There's a fair argument to be made that these are the best two teams remaining in the playoffs and the difference between the two teams is razor thin. Hell, even their basketball operations departments tied in the Executive of the Year voting.

Upsets are nice, and it's great theater to watch crumbling dynasties and players melting down. But excellent basketball trumps all of that. It could get physical, it will likely be more defensive-minded and less highlight-driven than we might expect, but this series will deliver excellent basketball.

(And we need that after suffering through the Atlanta Hawks.)
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com