MIAMI (AP) LeBron James will take some turns guarding Derrick Rose in the Eastern Conference finals. So will Dwyane Wade. Mike Bibby, Mario Chalmers and even Chris Bosh in some moments, too.
None of them expects to stop him.
Keeping Rose in check, however, is the top priority for the Miami Heat – and is likely a prerequisite for beating the Chicago Bulls and reaching the NBA finals. Game 1 of the East title series is Sunday night in Chicago, the city Rose has led into its first NBA Final Four since Michael Jordan took them there 13 years ago.
“We’re not a team to concede anything,” James said, discussing how to defend the guard who ended his two-year reign as the NBA’s MVP this season. “That’s not our nature. We don’t play basketball like that. We have too many guys that have too much pride to allow a guy individually to just go off.
“Like I’ve said, he’s going to get his. Their team is going to play well. But we’re up for the challenge.”
It may be their biggest challenge yet.
Rose has taken 29 percent of Chicago’s shots in the playoffs, his 256 attempts being almost as many as the total shots for the Bulls’ second and third options, Luol Deng (154) and Carlos Boozer (119) in the postseason. He’s not always a shoot-first guard, though, proven by his 90 assists in the playoffs – more than any other three Chicago players combined.
“Sometimes he’s going to slither in there and make some incredible plays,” Bosh said. “It’s going to happen.”
Much like James and Wade, Rose is truly a pick-your-poison opponent for teams.
Play him straight up, run the risk of getting beat 1-on-1.
Overplay him, and he makes you pay with the sharp pass.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Wade said. “He’s figured out how to be great in this league – fast. We know he’s going to score. He’s going to do amazing things. It’s our job just to make sure that we make it tough on him as possible. He’s the MVP for a reason.”
In turn, the Heat have been one of the NBA’s top defensive teams for a reason.
Even on Saturday, a few hours before boarding their charter flight to Chicago, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had his team wearing mouthguards and pads for practice. On the eve of Game 1, the Heat were hitting each other, then had their perimeter players huddled around a massive television screen to study more video – most of it almost certainly featuring Rose.
“He’s a challenge, no question about it, because he puts so much overwhelming pressure in the paint, on your bigs, on your guards, gets players in foul trouble,” Spoelstra said. “We have an aggressive defense. We don’t want to back off on that, even with our ultimate respect for him as a playmaker and as an MVP.”
Among teams in this year’s postseason, only four of the 16 are holding opponents under 90 points. The Bulls (87.7) and Heat (88.8) are two of them.
Either team getting to 90 points in this series might be a cause for celebration.
“I think they’ve been an excellent team all year long,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And now they’ve been together, they’ve played with each other, they’ve been through more situations, so I think they’re more comfortable with each other. But they’ve been a well-balanced team from the start of the season right up until their playoff series with Boston. They played great in the Boston series. They played great in the Philly series. So we know they’re a talented team.”
A confident one, too.
True, the Bulls are the NBA’s overall No. 1 seed and have the league’s best home mark, 41-6 including playoffs, as well. But when Chicago topped Atlanta on Thursday night to clinch that East semifinal series in six games, Rose quickly said he didn’t mind that the Bulls would be the underdogs in East finals against Miami.
The Heat reaction? Ha.
“By saying that, he’s taking a little pressure off his teammates,” James said. “I understand what he’s saying. By saying they’re underdogs, takes a lot of pressure of their teammates. There’s a No. 1 seed for a reason. We’re coming in with our mind set to play well, underdog, lead dog, whatever the case may be. Two great teams going against one another.”
Getting past Boston in the East semifinals was a major breakthrough for the Heat, given that James’ playoff runs with Cleveland in 2008 and 2010 were ended by the Celtics, and that Miami had struggled against Boston for the past four years.
Chicago is a thorny opponent as well, both for the Heat – 0-3 against the Bulls this year – and Wade, who is just 18-18 as a pro against his hometown team.
To the Heat, it seems fitting that their playoff road has stops in both Boston and Chicago, where the MVP awaits.
“We wouldn’t take it any other way,” Bosh said.
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