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 seriesThe 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. ConclusionWhat 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.