(Sports Network) - The Miami Heat have been idle for a week, but they'll need
to get back to business, starting Monday night when they take on the Chicago
Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Heat swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, while the Bulls took a
decisive Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night.
"We want to get back at it," said LeBron James, who reportedly will win his
fourth MVP. "We're looking forward to Monday night's game."
While this matchup won't be confused with the New York Yankees and Boston Red
Sox, the Heat and Bulls have built something of a rivalry this season.
The Bulls ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak, which was the second-
longest in NBA history. After the setback, James bemoaned the pounding he took
from the Bulls, especially two specific fouls, one from Kirk Hinrich and one
from Taj Gibson.
"Those are not basketball plays and it's been happening all year," James said
after the loss. "I've been able to keep my cool and try to tell Spo (head
coach Erik Spoelstra), 'Let's not worry about it too much,' but it is getting
to me a little bit."
James shook it off en route to another MVP, the best record in the league and
a sweep in round one.
The Heat hope to have gotten healthier during their week away. Dwyane Wade
didn't play in the series clincher on Saturday against Milwaukee with a
bruised knee. He is expected to be ready.
The Bulls aren't really interested in hearing about injury problems.
On top of missing former MVP Derrick Rose, Hinrich didn't play in the final
three games of the Nets series. Luol Deng missed the final two games. Both
players' availability is unknown for Game 1.
"We've dealt with adversity all year. Our team has the belief that we can win
every night," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "We've been short handed and
guys have stepped up."
First among them has been Joakim Noah. Battling plantar fascitis, Noah has
been a warrior this postseason and registered a double-double in the series
"Before this series I did not know if I was going to be able to play," said
Noah. "I could barely walk. To be in this situation now and win a Game 7 like
this in front of my family in Brooklyn. I'll remember this for the rest of my
Now, Noah and the Bulls will be decided underdogs against the defending NBA
"That's our rivalry," said Chicago forward Taj Gibson. "Words can't express
how bad we want to beat them."
BACKCOURT: A healthy Wade is vital for the Heat's success. By all accounts,
he's ready to go in Game 1 and should be counted on for huge success. Mario
Chalmers' scoring is down in the postseason, but you can always count on him
to bury an important 3-pointer.
If Hinrich is good to go, the Bulls are complete. He was a battler in the
Brooklyn series and the Bulls missed something with him out of the lineup. A
healthy Deng means Jimmy Butler will go back to the two-guard spot. In Deng's
absence, Butler played all 48 minutes in Games 6 and 7.
FRONTCOURT: James is clearly the best player in the world. His all-around game
in unmatched. He was fantastic against the Bucks with averages of 24.5 ppg,
7.8 rpg and 6.8 apg. James is on another planet right now. Chris Bosh's
scoring is down in the postseason and he has become a jump-shooter primarily.
Udonis Haslem is in the role-player portion of his career.
No matter how much people hate him, Carlos Boozer is one tough pro. In the
postseason, Boozer is averaging 17.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg. He's played the most
minutes for a Bulls' team that has seen its top guys log a ton of minutes.
Noah is a force, but Deng is key. If he can go, he'll be tasked with covering
James. No one can stop James, but Deng is an All-Defensive player and can give
it a better chance than most. His health is huge if the Bulls are going to
have any remote chance.
BENCH: Miami's Ray Allen is the best player off the bench on either team. He
is actually second on the Heat in playoff scoring and is shooting 46 percent
from the 3-point line. Shane Battier is a glue guy for the Heat and plays the
significant minutes in crunch time. Chris Anderson has been a major
contributor for the Heat in the postseason, averaging 8.3 ppg.
If healthy, the Bulls bench is solid. Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Gibson
and Nazr Mohammed are all critical to Chicago's success. Problem is, most of
them are logging heavy minutes because of the Bulls' injuries.
COACHING: Spoelstra has done such an understatedly brilliant job with the
Heat. His decision to essentially abandon conventional positions in the name
of playing his best five guys no matter where they play, transformed the Heat
into the team they are now.
Thibodeau is just a genius. He won Coach of the Year, finished second the next
year and should be a fixture atop the voting. Without Rose, Thibodeau has
managed a group of hard-working, defense-first guys into a team no one wants
to play. Every Bulls players bought into Thibodeau's system and they play
harder than anyone in the NBA.
PREDICTION: The Bulls have been an amazing story in this postseason. They've
overcome injury, illness and anything else the world can throw at them.
Depleted as they were, the Bulls won a Game 7 on the road and showed the heart
of a champion.
Problem is, Miami is waiting.
The Heat barely broke a sweat in knocking off the Bucks. Chicago is infinitely
better than Milwaukee, but an undermanned Bulls team can't contend with the
If Deng and Hinrich are out, or ineffective, the Heat can count on more rest
later in the week. If both play, the Bulls will give Miami a solid test.
SPORTSNETWORK PREDICITION: MIAMI in 5.
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