Express-News NBA writer Mike Monroe profiles the key players and matchups in the Eastern Conference finals between the top-seeded Bulls and No. 2 seed Heat, who lost all three meetings to Chicago this season by a combined eight points.
Heat: (0) Mike Bibby 6-2, 13th yr – The worst defender among all starters left in playoffs, and he’s about to face the MVP … He’d better shoot better from long range (23.5 percent) than he did in first two rounds.
Bulls: (1) Derrick Rose 6-3, 4th yr – Playoffs production (28.8 ppg, 8.2 apg) better than the regular season (25.0, 7.7) that earned MVP Award … Shooting, however, is down (44.5/33.2 on 3-pointers in season vs. 40.0/25.4 in playoffs).
Heat: (3) Dwyane Wade 6-4, 8th yr – He’s had some problems with migraines in playoff run, but he’s been a headache for opponents, averaging 26.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists … 3-point shooting has dropped in playoffs to 25.0.
Bulls: (6) Keith Bogans 6-5, 8th yr – He’s picking his spots to shoot playoff 3-pointers and has been so accurate (48.7 percent) that the Heat will have to game plan to limit his open opportunities. This fact alone makes him a factor.
Heat: (6) LeBron James 6-8,8th yr – His strong finish in close-out game against Celtics answered questions about his crunch-time edge. … After averaging 24.2 points in first round, scoring jumped to 28.0 in five games against Celtics.
Bulls: (9) Luol Deng 6-9, 7th yr – No Bulls player has logged more playoff court time than Deng, 43.2 minutes per game. … Solid playoff scorer (16.7 points) and rebounder (6.5), it’s his defensive excellence that keeps him out there.
Heat: (1) Chris Bosh 6-11, 8th yr – After averaging 19.8 points in first round, he slipped to 12.8 against Celtics’ stiffer defense but was Heat’s top rebounder against Boston. … Solid pick-and-roll defender will be vital at defensive end.
Bulls: (5) Carlos Boozer 6-9, 9th yr – Bothered some by “turf toe” during conference semifinals. … Playoff scoring (11.8 points per game) way off from regular season (17.5), but rebounding virtually the same (9.5 per game).
Heat: (50) Joel Anthony 6-9, 4th yr – A very athletic defender and quick to get on the boards, which is precisely what is needed against Noah. … Averaged 6.2 rebounds in conference semis against Boston, making himself a significant factor.
Bulls: (13) Joakim Noah 6-11, 4th yr – Bulls’ emotional leader also is their top rebounder (10.4 per game in regular season and playoffs) and an outstanding outlet passer. Always looking to lead Rose on the way to the basket.
Heat: G Mario Chalmers’ ability to defend Kyle Korver and Bogans, even Rose, makes him most important reserve … Bench bigs provide little, though Zydrunas Ilgauskas looms as an X-factor if Anthony still starts … James Jones is a 3-point threat.
Bulls: F Kyle Korver keeps foes from doubling Rose by demanding a defender at the arc. … Omer Asik’s toughness has made him a surprise factor … Ronnie Brewer’s defense and Taj Gibson’s rebounding make them X-factors.
Heat: Erik Spoelstra 3rd yr – He’s already beaten Tom Thibodeau’s mentor, Doc Rivers, but this is a big series for a guy who is going to take a lot of heat (pardon the pun) if he can’t get the team and its talents into the NBA Finals.
Bulls: Tom Thibodeau 1st yr – The guy won the Coach of the Year award and has his team playing lock-down playoff defense. … His use of bench has been masterful, and he’s smart enough to know Rose is a great closer.
Heat in six?
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HEAT VS. BULLS KEYS TO VICTORY
M-V-P vs. M-V-We: This series should probably be sponsored by the True Value Hardware chain. Of the five remaining playoff teams, none relies more on one player than the Bulls, who lean heavily on MVP Derrick Rose to generate offense, especially in crunch time. Though two-time MVP LeBron James finished third in this year’s voting, many believe 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade has just as much impact.
Roll that pick: The Bulls rely heavily on pick-and-roll action, especially with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The Heat’s big men, Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh, are adept at defending the pick-and-roll, “showing” out to force the dribbler — usually Rose — farther from the basket than he wants. How this action plays out will go a long way towards determining the series winner.
Ex-Spurs, X-Factors: Spurs fans often averted their eyes when Keith Bogans launched 3-pointers during his days as a rotation player in 2009-10. Now he’s a starter for the Bulls and was a positive factor from long range in a few playoff games leading to this series. Then there’s Kurt “Big Sexy” Thomas. In what should be a defensive series, he has a chance to be a factor on the interior.
– Mike Monroe