Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!: Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference Final preview

You’ll buy the whole seat but you’ll only use the edge!

The Eastern Conference Finals are set to kick off. To preview the series, Zach and Beckley had a surprisingly gentlemanly discussion of each team’s strengths and vulnerabilities–and how they match up against each other.

Beckley: Zach, you were one of only two ESPN experts who picked the Bulls beat the Heat, and you picked them to win in 6. I’ve got the Heat in 6, not because I think the series won’t be incredibly close, but because I like the Heat to close out at home. Both teams have an attacking style, but I think Miami’s will be more diverse in every aspect of the game, from coaching to offensive weapons to defensive schemes. Where do you see this series turning for the Bulls?

Zach:
Beckley, I agree this series will be incredibly close and I wouldn’t say I’m exactly confident in my final prediction for this series. But where I see the series turning for Chicago is on the offensive boards. Doesn’t it seem a little strange that Carlos Boozer can be oddly effective without ever actually doing anything positive in the post or on the pick-and-pop (Game 6 against Atlanta excluded)? He is SO Andrew Bynum in the way pushes people out of defensive rebounding position. And while I don’t buy into this ideal that Chris Bosh isn’t a real man or is actually a she-male or whatever sexist little shits are calling it these days, his ability to get pushed out of position by Carlos Boozer seems to be heightened in this matchup.

Between Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh inside, they’re very effective but also very slight of build. They can go get rebounds but I’m not confident they can root their way into rebounds. With Noah, Boozer, Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik inside, I’m not sure their physical way of magically ending up in rebounding position can be negated with what Miami has. Of course, this could easily be negated when Miami goes small, puts LeBron at the 4 and Carlos can no longer do anything physical inside. If Wade is going to get those rebounds as well, LBJ and Dwyane have a knack for dominating the glass. But what if they can’t get that done? How does Miami handle the offensive rebounding prowess of these Powers of Pamplona?

Beckley: If the Bulls do win, it will be the result of loads of extra possessions from Heat turnovers and offensive rebounds. The Heat just strangled Boston’s offense, one of the most efficient in the league, and one that is built off a variety of difficult to defend screen actions and counter reads. The Celtics offense may be predictable in that we all know a Ray Allen single-double is coming, but it’s infinitely variable because all the principals are reading and reaction to find the opening in the defense. Spoelstra had the Heat ready to take away Boston’s pet sets, and we saw the Heat more active in the passing lanes because they were tailoring their defense to break down the Celtics.

Against Chicago, a team that has abandoned the flex focused offense they employed early in the year in favor of predictable, but safe, sets involving Derrick Rose pick and rolls and the occasionally pindown, I predict an even more dominant performance.

Of course, there’s the matter of stopping Derrick Rose, even when you know he’s coming. As LeBron said in practice, Derrick Rose is going to see multiple tactics and multiple defenders throughout each game. He’ll have some great stretches, because he’s awesome, but I doubt we’ll ever see him dropping off four straight pick and pop looks for wide open Boozer jumpers. He’ll be trapped, he’ll be given the shot, he’ll be blitzed, but he won’t be comfortable.

If Rose isn’t consistently powering to the paint, the Bulls offensive rebound opportunities will be far fewer. As you point out, Wade and LeBron are both phenomenal rebounders, and will force Chicago to risk giving up fastbreaks as a penance for their over-aggression on the offensive glass.

Zach: All of those are valid points and I don’t really disagree with any of them. However, I just get the feeling that Spo’s defense isn’t some great mystery the Bulls can’t plan for. It doesn’t mean they will figure out the best way to attack it. Thibs has shown plenty of times in the playoffs so far that he doesn’t exactly adjust well to fresh tactics. It took him far too long to figure out how to beat Indiana. And if they couldn’t figure out how to stop Josh Smith from getting into the paint (outside of his own volition of course) then it seems to be quite daunting to attempt to slow down LeBron James in his drives. I just think you expect to give up 70 points to Wade and LeBron going in and you shut down the rest of the guys around them.

The Bulls do a great job of taking the role players around the stars away from their points of attack. They realize the true threat doesn’t come from directly in front of them, but rather the flanking members of their opponents. It’s like in Braveheart when the British are just firing arrows at the Scottish and have complete tunnel vision in their plan. They don’t see the Irish coming from all other sides. If anything, Thibs is always looking for the Irish, and almost exclusively at that.

I know it’s against the Hawks but the Bulls completely shut down Jamal Crawford after Game 1. Noah never allowed Al Horford to give consistent production on offense unless he was taking 18-footers. I’m not sure Marvin Williams was even invited to the games. If Udonis Haslem can’t resemble anything but a zombie version of himself, I trust the Bulls attack to account for the extraneous, yet necessary, artillery of the Heat. They can close on James Jones. They can keep Mario Chalmers from getting off clean shots. They can let Mike Miller do whatever the hell he wants.

I realize they’re going to force Derrick Rose to adjust to every single defensive scheme they have. But the Heat also have to adjust to Chicago’s defense. They beat the Celtics at the same game, but the Bulls have much better defensive execution with better defensive parts than Miami faced last round. Shutting down auxiliary parts while getting their own (Deng, Korver, hell even Bogans) to contribute will be something Miami has to deal with as well.

Beckley: I think you’re on to something here. Beating Indiana and Atlanta isn’t impressive, but it’s not Chicago’s fault that they had few adjustments to make beyond stopping Jamal Crawford. Chicago has good personnel in Brewer/Bogans and Luol Deng to match up with Miami’s superhero stars. I’m especially excited about he potential for Deng and LeBron both play 50 minutes in an overtime game.

So, we seem to be on the same page: the Eastern Conference Finals will feature a bunch of “great” games that are 75-72 with five minutes left.

The series will likely come down to which team can manufacture points at the end of the game, and I have for more faith in Spoelstra’s play design and the combined talents of LeBron and Wade than I do in Thibideau’s ability to make offensive adjustments and Rose’s scintillating solo act. Also, I expect Bosh to play at least as well as he did on both ends against the Celtics, and have two 25+ point games against Boozer’s “defense.”

I know what you’re thinking “did you just say you are counting on Chris Bosh to swing the series?” Well, if Tyler Hansbrough can go off against Boozer, I have to think Chris Bosh has more than enough talent to light him up a couple times this series. The Heat run their best sets through Bosh, using Wade and James as finishers. Having seen how effective they were at reaching the rim against Boston, I think they’ll have enough success throughout the series to generate what will pass for consistent offense in this rugby scrum.

The Heat have three of the top four players in the matchup, and I trust their coach to make the more creative adjustments and generally offer a more complex gameplan for the Bulls to handle than they’ve seen thus far in the playoffs. It’s an imperfect analogy for a few reasons, but I expect Rose to play some great basketball, but ultimately fail for similar reasons that LeBron did in Cleveland, when James was overwhelmed by Boston teams with more super talented players, and a more diverse offense.

Zach: I feel like this has been the most agreeable disagreement two people can have. I concur with every point you’ve made and think they’re all valid. If anything, this series should be a complete slugfest and I’d love for it to go 13 games just to quench my desire for basketball euphoria.

Chris Bosh’s demise or futility has been greatly exaggerated. I don’t understand how he went from being an arguable franchise player to someone that is completely embarrassing to have on a basketball court. People forget that he’s really good. Oh he struggled against Kevin Garnett’s defense last series? That’s an exclusive club of just about anybody KG has ever faced in his career. I don’t think we can fault him for that. Is it just the paycheck? Is it his branding being flawed after he left Toronto? Could all of this be reversed with a steady diet of poutine that he just can’t find in South Beach (although if anybody could find it, Kevin Arnovitz could)?

I too think he’ll have a good series, and even a couple games that make the audience gasp in surprise. And while I don’t believe that fourth quarter points are necessarily worth more than first quarter points in the box score, the timing of Bosh’s points will be the biggest keys to just how effective he is. At the end of games, he’ll be going against Taj Gibson for designated defending and I don’t know that he’ll have such an advantage then.

If you’re not hitting an insane amount of 3s at the United Center, it’s very hard to win there. Miami has every weapon, tool (some would say in more ways than one) and scheme to be successful in this series. They have the stars. They have the momentum. They have the quan (what ever happened to Cuba Gooding, Jr.?). Chicago also has these things to go with their shiny homecourt advantage. Yes, Miami is the best road team in the NBA this year. And they have to go into the toughest homecourt to win on this year and get it done.

It’s the classic case of an unstoppable force playing chicken with an immovable object. We get to see who will blink first in this game of Russian Roulette. I’ve never seen Derrick Rose blink in any interview. Don’t think he’ll start now.

Beckley: Word. Let’s just hope the series is decided on the court, and not by a dislocated elbow. Both teams will be getting chippy and playing physically– maybe for seven games.

I’m approaching unsafe levels of stoked.

I can’t wait to see LeBron guarding Rose in the final possessions, or Joakim Noah and Joel Anthony tipping and retipping and retipping and retipping a rebound until they tumble in a tangled mass of elbows and hustle–in the game’s third possession.

It’s going to be ugly, awesome and thrilling. And you’re going to be wrong… I think.

Twitter: @Talkhoops @BeckleyMason

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