With star point guard Derrick Rose out this season, the Chicago Bulls were playing with house money during the 2012-13 season. They were not expected to go far in the playoffs, or especially get past their main competition, the Miami Heat, without Derrick Rose playing at 110 percent. However with Rose scheduled to return next season, and Miami showing major cracks in the armor, Chicago may be closer to a title than anyone could have thought.
In the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, Miami was able to take four straight after a Game One loss behind a monster performance from LeBron James and a tough team defensive effort. Derrick Rose was held to only 35% shooting, and turned the ball over almost four times a game during that series. Joakim Noah was held to only six points and nine rebounds per game.
During the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Miami has been a completely different team than the one that steamrolled through the Eastern Conference the last two years.
Next year, can we really expect Dwyane Wade to be “All-Star Dwyane Wade” like he has been in years past? Whenever Wade plays badly, it is almost always attributed to injuries, but maybe Wade is just on the decline. As of Game 4 of the Finals, Wade is averaging only 15 points per game during the NBA Playoffs.
Against Chicago, Wade averaged only 12.6 points per game. Jimmy Butler is a great defender, but it would be foolish to assume that Butler’s defense was the only thing that held him over ten points below his playoff scoring average.
When Luol Deng is healthy on the other hand, this will leave Butler to attack Wade both offensively and defensively for 48 minutes a game. And if this season was any indication, it WILL be for 48 minutes a game.
Chris Bosh has been atrocious throughout the playoffs. He’s averaging only 12.7 points for a team that has desperately needed scoring throughout the playoffs. He’s shown up on the boards during the Finals, but against the Pacers he averaged a pathetic 4.3 rebounds per game. This is a guy who is playing center for the Heat right now.
To be fair, Bosh is not a center. In this lineup, he is being asked to do things that he flat out does not have the ability to do. I have long advocated trading Bosh for a true center, but I don’t run the Heat. If Bosh is back next year at center, Chicago can continue to attack him with the trifecta of Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah, three active big men who can really make Chris Bosh work on the boards.
That leaves the biggest member of the Big Three: LeBron James. LeBron ain’t losing any of his ability anytime soon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll play to the best of his abilities. We have seen consistently throughout his career that when he doesn’t have any reinforcements show up, James may flat out just give up. We saw it in Cleveland in 2010, we saw it against Dallas in 2011, and we saw it for the first three games of the Finals this season.
While LeBron is much more a given than either of the other two, Chicago has the ability to handle him if the other two don’t show up. Luol Deng is already a player who can make LeBron’s life difficult, and Jimmy Butler proved he can handle James in stretches as well. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are both guys who can handle James’ post game if Bosh isn’t killing the Bulls with the mid-range jump shot. LeBron James will still typically get his, but his struggles against the Spurs have been eye-opening.
Offensively, Chicago comes back with a variety of different looks than the last few years. Of course, Derrick Rose will be the focal point of the offense. Joakim Noah on the other hand is an infinitely better passer than two years ago. When the Heat double-team Rose, Noah will now have the ability to flash to the top of the key and make the Heat pay for overplaying Rose.
Jimmy Butler might be the biggest upgrade on the roster. With the last pick in the 2011 First Round, Chicago picked up a player that played 48 minutes in a streak of five out of seven games during the playoffs, switching between LeBron James, Deron Williams and Dwyane Wade. Butler didn’t care of course, as he averaged 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 40.5 percent from three and over a make a game from three.
For anyone who doesn’t have the image burned into their brains, Keith Bogans was the starting shooting guard for the Bulls against Miami in 2011. He averaged under five points per game, under 35 percent from the field, and a paltry 3o percent from three. While Jimmy Butler very well might be a future All-Defensive Team member, he will impact the offense against the Heat just as much.
Miami has proved during the playoffs this year that they are beatable. Even a Chicago Bulls team held together with duct tape and super glue was able to hold things within ten points for three out of five games. Right now, common opinion holds that Chicago would be favored against any team except Miami. If things keep heading in this direction for Miami, the tide will turn sooner rather than later.