As a Bulls’ fan, the ultimate satisfaction would be seeing our boys in red and black hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time after a long, and often painful, drought.

Last season, the team who stood between our Bulls and their first trip back to the NBA Finals since 1998 was the star-studded Miami Heat.

All three 2011 regular season games the Chicago Bulls played against the Miami Heat were circled on the calenders of every Chicago fan.  It was personal for all of us to beat the group of players who passed up playing for the Bulls and tried to beat-up on our team and the rest of the league, as well.

Words cannot describe how happy I was when Kyle Korver popped in the game-winning three-pointer in that first meeting.

…nor how happy I was when Derrick Rose dished off the ball to the corner as Luol Deng proceeded to nail the game-winning three-pointer in their second meeting.

After the Bulls went on the road to Miami and beat the Heat in their own gym (and even made a couple of their players cry according to their own head coach), I can definitely say that I was more pumped-up than ever.

The Heat were not looking as good as they were hyped-up to be… at least against our Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls then proceeded to roll to a record of 62-20 (NBA-best) to finish out the regular season, and Derrick Rose became the youngest M.V.P. award recipient in league history.  The confidence of the team and the fans were soaring high.  There were even some national basketball analysts who were jumping on the bandwagon of picking the Bulls to upset the star-studded Miami Heat.

And after a resounding Game One victory in the Eastern Conference Finals for the Bulls over the Heat, there was an air of confidence in Chicago.  All of the disappointments of the star-studded Miami Heat which took place over the course of the season were under more focus and scrutiny than ever.

The voices of LeBron James’ critics were at a then-all-time fevered pitch; he had already failed in their eyes.  The series wasn’t even over and seemingly all of the critics and fans had written him off in his mind.  James is too good of a player to write-off when he has the help of a Dwyane Wade and a Chris Bosh against a team as flawed as the Chicago Bulls were in the post-season last year — with Boozer gimping around and no scoring shooting-guard to speak of.

In the days off between Games One and Two of the Conference Finals, the pressure completely shifted from the Miami Heat onto the Bulls — who now boasted four consecutive victories over the most hyped-up team in NBA history.  That’s when LeBron James decided enough was enough and decided to play like the superstar player he is capable of being.  James took the rest of that series personally and took over.  The Heat won the next four games despite the cold-shooting of the player most people considered as their closer — Dwyane Wade.

Nearly all of the Bulls’ pressure fell upon the shoulders of their young M.V.P. Derrick Rose — who was their entire offense.  Rose fought against countless double-teams for the entire series and shot a poor percentage.

Rose took responsibility for his inefficient play after the series.  But, while his stat-line was inefficient, it is hard to say he played poorly.  He took on the big, bad wolf pretty much on his own and managed to limit turnovers and long, contested jump-shots (which would have led to steals and long-rebounds thus would have sparked Miami’s unstoppable transition offense) and always looked to put pressure on the elite Heat defense by always attacking.

Derrick Rose kept those last four games reasonably competitive despite the ineffective play of his teammates offensively.

Now, here we are again — one season later.

The Chicago Bulls are about to face the Miami Heat for the first time since that bitter, 4-1, playoffs defeat, last May.  There is already a lot of pressure from the Chicago fans for the team to go out there and avenge their loss to “The Big Three.”  But we fans should remember something.  Something we would have been better served to know over the course of last year’s regular season:

It’s only the regular season.

And, more than that.  It is just one regular season game out of a 66-game season.

It barely matters at all whether the team wins or loses.

The thing that matters most are the effects the Bulls will experience in a would-be playoff rematch as a result of this up-coming game on Sunday.

A lot of the fans want to see Luol Deng (torn left wrist ligament and all) and Richard Hamilton (strained groin) go out there and help pound Miami in Southern Florida tomorrow.  But what the fans should really want is Deng to wait until he is fully ready to play and have Hamilton not risk further aggravating his injury to help make sure both will be ready-and-able to play, and play efficiently, in the post-season.

The thing that would help the Bulls in a post-season series rematch against Miami Heat the most is if all of the pressure is where it belongs: on the Miami Heat’s shoulders.

If the Bulls lose on Sunday in Miami then take it with a grain of salt.  No matter what, they aren’t going to be healthy.  The Bulls have improved their #12 offense to #5 in the league since their playoff exit last season.  Their priorities should be sitting their injured players to make sure they can be at full-strength when it matters; the playoffs.

And, to be frank, who cares if the Bulls lose tomorrow? It would probably only help the Bulls if these two teams meet again in a post-season rematch.

Look at it this way:

When LeBron James’ team was down 0-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the team that embarrassed his team during the regular season, it took a lot of pressure off of his shoulders and lowed expectations people had for him.  James played like a superstar against the Bulls because he had a chip on his shoulder; James played like a role-player in the NBA Finals because his team was up 2-1 in the series and he faded away into the background, on the basketball court, when all of the pressure is on him to be the savior.

As inconsistent as James has been as a player, never count him out.  Because that is when he has always risen.

If Deng and/or Hamilton sit out, and the Heat blow-out the Bulls tomorrow, so what? Both of them will be back sooner rather than later to give the team a morale boast anyway.

If Deng and/or Hamilton sit out, and they still beat the Heat, that would be great in a sense — but, honestly, very surprising.

Remember, if the Bulls win that game, it would likely be because the Heat, for some reason, did not take them seriously or play to their usual level.  So take that would-be victory with a gain of salt, as well.  Don’t believe that a win now, at less than full strength, even comes close to guaranteeing a victory when it actually matters against the Miami Heat.  It doesn’t.

Because if the injury-riddled Bulls somehow do beat the Miami Heat on the road tomorrow,  it would only serve to annoy James, Wade and the Heat.  As well as putting the burden of expectations on the Bulls’ shoulders once again — much like last year’s Conference Finals.

And, quite frankly, James doesn’t deserve the benefits of being the underdog.  He’s too physically gifted and skilled to ever have that label.

Besides… that ship should have sailed when he and his two other counterparts were parading around on-stage.

[youtube id=”e9BqUBYaHlM” width=”360″ height=”210″] The Miami Heat deserve all of the high expectations because they placed them on their own collective back by dancing around on-stage in a party-like atmosphere.

…before even playing one game together.

…or before even filling out their team roster.

It wasn’t Derrick Rose who proclaimed that his team should win “not two; not three; not four; not five; not six” championships — that was LeBron James.

In fact, Derrick Rose down-played the praise of Michael Jordan, himself, when Jordan said to a packed United Center crowd last season to ‘not be surprised if you see this (Bulls) team win six more championships in the future.’

As always… Go, Bulls.  Win or lose tomorrow, let’s look for some positive signs to take away from the game and allow the team improve upon the mistakes and weaknesses — while it still isn’t yet so crucial.




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