Sunday, May 15, 2011

Heat vs. Bulls Series Pick

If you've been watching the regular season games and mulling over a wide variety of factors, there's no real drama to this pick: the Bulls have home court, the superior record, the better interior defense, bench, and coach. You take them without hesitation, and you enjoy the price benefit that you get from their relative shakiness in the first two rounds. Miami has little to punish Derrick Rose on defense, Mario Chalmers will rack up fouls guarding him, Mike Bibby has no good feelings about this next round of games, and the Bulls have strong perimeter defenders to impair Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. You are also encouraged by the fact that the Heat starters have posted negative numbers for their first two series. And man alive, that coach matchup could be big.

If you've been watching the playoffs, there's no drama to this pick: the Heat are hawt and the Bulls are naught. Miami is 8-2 in the first two rounds, with grinding takedowns of the Sixers and Celtics, and a closing 16-0 run to close out Boston where they finally looked like the team that everyone was afraid of at the start of the year. They have three of the four best players in this series, they come in with more rest and having defeated a better class of opponent, and they are playing as good of a level of defense as the Bulls. Against an opponent that has come down to the wire against the .500-esque Pacers and Hawks, they are beyond the fashionable pick; they are the de facto favorite. And bench guys and coaches don't seem to matter that much this year.

Karma is supposed to favor the Bulls, who have the MVP, have played a better brand of ball all year, have avoided serious downturns and have next to no detested players, assuming that you can stomach Joakim Noah. Chicago's also got a number of athletic bigs that could do damage, especially in the bench minutes that actually start to matter in the third round, when the games happen every other day for television purposes -- and does that ever favor the Bulls.

Of course, your single best move in this playoff season is to simply choose the opposite of wherever my money is going. If the Thunder defend home court in Game Seven tomorrow, my record in series is a whopping 7-5, which seems fine until you realize that I haven't caught any of the upsets, and I'm 0-4 in series involving the Mavs and Celtics. But it's hard to be mad in any year when the hoop is as good as it's been, and there are no distasteful Finals matchups. When the worst possible pairing from a bad taste standpoint is a Heat-Mavs rematch that will set new marks in referee puling while still being highly watchable ball, it's all good. Even a Grizzly-Bulls matchup, where the games are unlikely to escape final scores in the '80s and three-point shooting and fast breaks will depend entirely on whether Derrick Rose is feeling it, would still involve wildly excitable new players, coaches, and variables. It's impossible to see this year in the Association as anything but a changing of the guard, and lo, the guard needed changing. Badly.

Finally, there's this. The Bulls have a ton of experience in very close games, both this year and in the past in their epic war against the Celtics. When things are tight, they are going to be less likely to squeeze the air out of the ball, both from that experience and the fact that the Heat have had issues in those games this year. So if the series goes to a game seven, I think Chicago wins... but I don't think it goes that far.

Look for Wade to rally past Deng, James to switch off onto Rose when the Heat need stops, in the same way that Kobe Bryant used to close out speed guards in late series when the Lakers went back to back. I also think that Chris Bosh wins his soft parade matchup against Carlos Boozer, and that Joel Anthony provides a similar benefit to his team as Noah does to the Bulls. I also can't shake 8-2 against good teams versus 8-4 against soft.

Heat in six watchable, grinding games where none of them go into triple digits. I'll enjoy watching the Western series more, but the rest of the world won't. Except, of course, for the ending...

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