After knocking off the Brooklyn Nets on the road in Game 7 on Saturday, the Chicago Bulls didn’t have a chance to celebrate as they were forced to immediately shift their focus to their second-round opponent, the Miami Heat. With just a day of rest in between, Chicago traveled to Miami to prepare for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday night.
The Bulls-Heat rivalry has been well documented and over the last few years, as the contests have been complete battles. When the Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, the celebration inside the United Center felt like the team had just won the NBA Championship.
The game was both intense and physical, so much so that LeBron James fell just short of calling the Bulls “dirty” due to the physical nature of the contest, particularly as it relates to him. All told, there is no love lost between these two franchises and however many games this series goes, expect them all to be hard-fought and competitive.
Keys to Victory
The health of the Bulls – or lack thereof – in their first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets didn’t prove to be a hindrance, but against the Miami Heat, it’ll definitely be a factor. Luol Deng having complications from his spinal tap and Kirk Hinrich still barely being able to walk with a calf injury doesn’t bode well against a fully rested Heat squad who haven’t played a game since April 28.
Without those two players, the Bulls have mismatches all around as Hinrich usually draws Wade as a defensive assignment and Deng guards James. Getting those two back on the court in relatively good health at some point during this season will be critical for Chicago.
Last series it was Nate Robinson. This series, the X-Factor will have to be Jimmy Butler. The Marquette alum's emergence of late has been a godsend for the Bulls and he’s proven his value with each and every playoff game he competes in. Butler is a solid defender and an exceptional rebounder, but in this series, he’s going to need to pick up his offensive game as well.
He cracked double figures in four of the seven games against the Nets, but he also had three very low single-digit scoring nights in that series as well. To offset the scoring output of his fellow Marquette brethren in Dwyane Wade, Butler is going to have to put the ball in the basket consistently.
It would be nice to see the Bulls knock the defending NBA Champions off their throne, but in the playoffs, talent eventually wins out over everything else. Yes, we know the Bulls have heart and we know they’re going to come at the Heat with everything they’ve got, but Miami just has too much talent and Chicago doesn’t have enough. Prediction: Heat win, 4-1