The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat are the favorites to once again reach the Eastern Conference Finals and play for the right to win a championship in the NBA Finals this season. Unless something strange happens in the first two rounds of the Playoffs, these two titans of the League are aligned to collide once again.
While fans of the respective teams seem to have a mutual dislike for one another, a mutual respect does exist between these two clubs; especially on the part of the Heat who realize this isn't the same team they faced last season.
"They've evolved offensively," said Miami Head Coach Erik Spoelstra after the Heat's shootaround at the United Center on Thursday afternoon. "While they haven't been healthy, they have a new element with [Rip] Hamilton. You could see that the other night when he scored 18 points in the 3rd quarter [against the New York Knicks]. He gives them a legitimate championship threat coming off of different looks that aren't necessarily Rose pick-and-rolls. They've improved, but we feel we've improved as well.”
Heat Power Forward Chris Bosh agreed with his coach's sentiments.
"They're better. They made moves in the off-season to get better," opined Bosh. "They've had a lot to think about since that Playoff series [last season] and they're a motivated group. They're going to play their style, they're going to play motivated basketball and they're an intense team. We understand they're coming for us, so we're coming for them, too."
Chicago native and Miami All-Star, Dwyane Wade thinks the biggest difference between this year's Bulls team and last years squad is just an overall belief in themselves and their abilities.
"They're more confident as a group," said Wade. "Last year they all just kind of gave D. Rose the ball and they just moved out of the way. I think this year – and maybe some of it has to do with [Rose] being out – they've improved just going through the experience of last year. They all understand their roles and they're just playing with so much more confidence. They're a much more dangerous team this year than last year and last year they were a heck of a ball club."
You always appreciate when your opponent respects you as a competitor, but that respect doesn't mean you want to beat the opposition any less. That sentiment rings true for both of these teams and should they see each other in the Eastern Conference Finals as expected, it should make for a wild ride and basketball that fans of both sides can appreciate.