An in-depth look at the Miami Heat’s Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup against the Chicago Bulls.
SMALL FORWARD | EDGE: HEAT
The Bulls have a history of being physical with LeBron James, but it doesn’t exactly disrupt his game. The MVP averaged 28 points and 8.0 rebounds in four games against Chicago while shooting 63.8 percent. James voiced displeasure about two hard fouls after Chicago snapped Miami’s 27-game win streak in March.
Luol Deng missed the final two games of the Nets series with spinal fluid leakage caused by a spinal tap, and his status for Game 1 is in question. When healthy, he’s a skilled defender with a solid offensive game. But he’s coming off the two worst shooting seasons of his career (41.2, 42.6 percent) and shot 37.7 against Miami. Jimmy Butler would start if Deng cannot.
POWER FORWARD | EDGE: BULLS
Udonis Haslem made the most of 68 minutes against the Bucks, hitting 13 of 21 shots (including several jumpers) and grabbing 19 rebounds. His rebounding, defense and physicality will be needed to counter Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. James and Shane Battier also will get time at PF.
Carlos Boozer excelled in the first round against the Nets (17.4 points, 10.6 rebounds) and could give the Heat problems when Miami goes with a smaller lineup. Boozer played very well in four games against the Heat this season: 19 points and 15 rebounds per game. But he also committed 15 turnovers.
CENTER | EDGE: HEAT
Noah had an epic Game 7 against the Nets: 24 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks, and his hustle and defense usually leave an imprint on games. He averaged 12 points and 10 boards in two games against Miami and must strike a balance between patrolling the paint without leaving Bosh open on his wing jumpers.
SHOOTING GUARD | EDGE: HEAT
Dwyane Wade, who shot just 36.8 percent in the first round, has had 10 days since his last game to recover from a bone bruise in his knee, but a full recovery has been elusive. He has struggled at times playing in his hometown of Chicago, but not this season (53.6 percent shooting).
With Richard Hamilton dropping out of the rotation, the Bulls have received very good work this postseason from Butler (11.4 points, 9.9 rebounds) and Marco Belinelli (22 and 24 points in the last two games of the Nets series). Butler is a pesky defender who will make Wade work for his shots.
POINT GUARD | EDGE: BULLS
Mario Chalmers had a pedestrian first round but played well the second half of the season. And he played a responsible floor game against Chicago this year (17 assists, 4 turnovers), though he made only 4 of 17 three-pointers in those games. Norris Cole’s defense will be needed at times against explosive Nate Robinson.
BENCH | EDGE: HEAT
The best of the Big 3 era, by far: Ray Allen was the Heat’s second-leading scorer in the first round (16.5 points per game); Chris Andersen had 33 points and 21 rebounds in 59 minutes and Cole was a factor. Battier shot 5 for 22 overall against the Bucks but had a career-best season from three-point range.
If Deng and Hinrich can play, that allows Robinson and Belinelli to come off the bench, with Taj Gibson and if needed, Daequan Cook, Nzar Mohammed and Hamilton. Solid group, but not as good as Bulls benches of past seasons, before Omar Asik and others bolted.
COACH | EDGE: EVEN
Erik Spoelstra has made virtually all the right moves with this group — implementing a free-flowing offensive system that suits his team without compromising defensively, settling on a tidy nine-man rotation and inserting Haslem as a starter.
No coach extracts more effort, energy and defensive diligence from his team than gravel-voiced Tom Thibodeau. He has made several sound decisions, including opting for Belinelli over Hamilton in Games 6 and 7 of the Nets series.
INTANGIBLES | EDGE: HEAT
Miami couldn’t be playing any better, with 41 wins in its past 43 games. The only concern is whether Wade will be at peak efficiency while continuing to deal with a bone bruise in his knee.
A proud, feisty bunch, the Bulls lack the overall offensive talent to measure up with the Heat, and health is a concern (Deng, Hinrich, likely no Rose). But the Bulls out-rebounded the Heat by 42 in the four games, and their defense, hustle and interior presence create challenges.