An in-depth look at the Miami Heat’s Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup against the Chicago Bulls.
SMALL FORWARD | EDGE: HEAT• 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.
• Bulls: 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• Heat: 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.
• Bulls: 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
Heat: Chris Bosh’s scoring numbers were modest in the first round (12.8 average), but he succeeded in often drawing Bucks center Larry Sanders away from the basket because of his ability to knock down shots, including three three-pointers in Game 1. That will be the objective with Noah. Bosh averaged just 5.5 rebounds in four games against the Bulls this season, and that must improve.
SHOOTING GUARD | EDGE: HEAT• 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).
• Bulls: 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• Heat: 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.
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich missed the past three playoff games with a severely bruised calf and told Bulls reporters Saturday night that he isn’t ready yet. Without him, the Bulls used Robinson and Marquis Teague. Robinson thrived in the first round (17.0 points, 50.5 percent shooting) and is very dangerous when he’s on a roll. Derrick Rose has not publicly ruled out a return, but it would be a surprise.
BENCH | EDGE: HEAT• 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.
• Bulls: 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
• Bulls: 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• 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.
• Bulls: 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.