By Brad Thompson–
CHICAGO (WSCR) The Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference Finals schedule is set. Here’s how I see the positional advantages and breakdowns for the series.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs. Mike Bibby.
This is an easy one. You could put Rose versus any other point guard in the league and you’ll end up with the same conclusion – advantage MVP. Bibby had a terrible series against Boston, even though Rajon Rondo played with one arm for half the series. Thus far in the playoffs, Bibby is averaging 3.4 points per game and shooting 25 percent from the field. While Mario Chalmers remains the backup, he’s averaging more minutes a game and points than Bibby. Look for that to continue. Chalmers is young, more athletic and a better defender than Bibby, so expect Chalmers’ minutes to increase to try to slow down Rose. Also, don’t be surprised if Dwyane Wade guards Rose, at times, throughout the series. Athletically, Wade is Miami’s best chance of checking Rose, but he’s still not a shutdown on the ball defender. In addition, I’m not sure the Heat want Wade to expend that much energy on the defensive end. No matter who is matched up against Rose, he should have a huge series. Advantage: Bulls
Shooting Guard: Keith Bogans vs. Dwyane Wade
This is another clear mismatch. While Bogans is a strong perimeter defender and is coming off a series where he played well against another All-Star shooting guard, Joe Johnson, Wade is one of the best two guards in the league. Bogans contributed more from the 3-point line than expected against Atlanta, but is he 100 percent healthy? Even though Wade has the advantage here, I like the defensive options Chicago has against Wade. Besides Bogans, the Bulls can insert Ronnie Brewer. He is a solid defender, and his size, at 6’7”, could give Wade trouble. And while Kyle Korver isn’t a good defender, he can still provide some help against Wade. Putting Korver in for short stretches and making Wade chase Korver around screens and guard against Korver’s 3-point shot could tire Wade out. With that said, expect a steady diet of Bogans and Brewer, especially considering how poorly Korver shot against Atlanta. Advantage: Heat
Small Forward: Luol Deng vs. LeBron James
Even though James didn’t win the MVP this season, many still consider him the best player in the NBA. The good news for Chicago is that Deng is a tough defender. James’ size and athleticism makes him a tough cover for anyone, but what I’m more concerned about than Deng’s defense on LeBron, is Deng’s offense. I worry that Deng, who’s averaging more than 43 minutes a game in the playoffs, won’t be as effective on the offensive end because he’s working so hard to defend LeBron. The Bulls desperately need Deng to score his usual 15 to 20 points per game. Guarding LeBron, and playing heavy minutes along the way, will take its toll on Deng. Thibodeau should use Brewer against James to give Deng some help and rest. Advantage: Heat
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer vs. Chris Bosh
This is an intriguing matchup. Aside from Game 6 against Atlanta, Boozer hasn’t played very well in the playoffs, or at least scoring enough. He’s averaging 11.8 points per game in the playoffs, down from his regular season average of 17.5. Both players are grabbing nine rebounds a game in the playoffs. Taj Gibson has been a steady reserve all season and was significant contributor for the Bulls against Atlanta. If Boozer struggles, look for Gibson to log more minutes. Udonis Haslem is Miami’s backup, but he’s still recovering from an injury and doesn’t figure to have an impact on the series. This matchup will be a combination of Boozer and Gibson versus Bosh. Even without a competent backup for Bosh, he’s the more skilled player and gets the nod by the slimmest of margins. A better matchup for the Bulls defensively might be for Noah to guard Bosh, which puts Boozer on the offensively challenged Anthony. Advantage: Heat
Center: Joakim Noah vs. Joel Anthony
Noah’s scoring has been inconsistent in the playoffs, but he is definitely the better player here. Both Noah and Anthony are defensive-minded players, but Noah has a decisive advantage on the boards. In the playoffs, Noah is averaging 10.4 rebounds per game, while Anthony is bringing in only 5.7. It will be interesting to see if Anthony will be able to keep Noah off the offensive glass. This is where Noah has his biggest impact on offense. Anthony’s lack of offense, only 4.2 points a game, allows Noah the opportunity to play off of Anthony. Noah will be able to show hard on pick and rolls and have the freedom to come from the help side to block shots. Having Noah near the basket, against the slashing of Wade and James should be a big help defensively for Chicago. Watch for Coach Erik Spoelstra to play Zydrunas Ilgauskas, at times, to pull Noah away from the hoop. Advantage: Bulls
Chicago uses 10 players a game. Miami plays three, I mean, seven maybe eight. The Heat are dominated by star players and their bench is limited. Meanwhile, Chicago gets strong contributions from its bench every game. The Bench Mob showed its ability in the Atlanta series and will play a critical role in this series. Advantage: Bulls
Coach: Tom Thibodeau vs. Erik Spoelstra
Thibodeau was the Coach of the Year, but don’t overlook the job Spoelstra did in Miami. No one was under more pressure than Spoelstra to succeed. When Miami started slow, people were calling for Spoelstra’s head and wanted Pat Riley to take over. That didn’t happen and the Heat ended up with the second best record in the East. And on top of that, he has the Heat playing stingy defense. Getting three superstars to play defense is commendable – credit Spoelstra. Thibodeau has a deeper bench, so it gives him more options to make critical decisions regarding substitutions and matchups. In the end, the winner of this matchup comes down to late game execution. Which coach will draw up the crucial game-winning plays? Advantage: Push.