By John Schmeelk
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Game 1 provided a very valuable look at the Heat-Bulls series, and how it could play out over the next couple of weeks. It’s always unwise to overreact to the first game of any series but there are some key points both teams need to pay attention to if they want to win the series:
If the Bulls want to win the series…
… they need to continue to dominate the paint. The front line was the obvious advantage the Bulls had before this series started and that was certainly on display Sunday night. After Chris Bosh, Chicago has the next three best big men and it isn’t close. That doesn’t include the raw but athletic Omer Asik and savvy tough as nails veteran Kurt Thomas. In terms of rebounding I can make the argument the Bulls have the two best front line players in this series (Noah and Boozer). After Chris Bosh, the Heat are rolling out Zydrunas Ilguaskas, Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and a rusty Udonis Haslem. The talent and athletic discrepancy is stark.
The Bulls aren’t going to flex their muscle in a ton of post isolations like the Grizzlies did in the postseason, though Carlos Boozer is capable. Instead, their strength will show on the offensive glass and being on the receiving end of passes from Derrick Rose on his penetration. The Bulls are not a very efficient offensive team, but that doesn’t matter as much when they get 41 second chance points. It’s hard to figure out how the Heat can alter this equation. They simply don’t have the bodies. They may be better off going small and taking their offensive advantage. Imagine how bad this might get when Chris Bosh doesn’t bring his “A” game like he did on Sunday.
… they need to continue to spread the wealth on offense. Derrick Rose took only 22 shots, a good number. Deng, Boozer, and Noah all took between 10 and 15 shots, also good numbers. Six players scored eight points or more. When the Bulls get into trouble, Derrick Rose holds the ball too much and takes way too many shots and that didn’t happen in Game 1. I would like to see Carlos Boozer get up to 15 shots per game. He has a legit half court postgame that the Bulls will need to win the series.
For the Heat to win the series…
… they need to get out in transition more. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are unstoppable on the fast break and the Heat need to take advantage of their skills. The Bulls were by most numbers and metrics the best defensive team in the league this season. The Heat can mitigate that strength a bit if they can get out and run. Of course, it all starts with getting stops, defensive rebounds and forcing turnovers. We already discussed the Heat’s lack of rebounding so they’ll need to force some more turnovers to start the break. The Bulls had only ten Sunday night.
… they need to move the ball on offense. Due to the Bulls great defense, even with LeBron and Wade,Miami can’t win this series using only isolations and pick and rolls. They managed against the Celtics, who are also a great defensive team, but the athleticism of the Chicago big men is a game changer. On switches, I saw both Taj Gibson and Omer Asik force LeBron James into long jumpers as the shot clock ran down. Joakim Noah is athletic enough to do the same. The Heat will have to run plays and move the ball, things they are not great at. Of course, Wade or LeBron becoming unconscious in a couple games can make this slightly less essential.
… they need to get to the free throw line. Once again, because of the athletes the Bulls have on the front line and their team defense the Heat might have some trouble getting to and finishing around the basket. Wade and LeBron will have to use their superior speed and size to draw contact and hope their star power gets the referees to put them at the line. It can get the Bulls big men into foul trouble, making them less aggressive on the boards, mitigating another Chicago advantage. It also, of course, gives the Heat a much better chance at offensive success in the half court.
It should be a fun and tight series, but I think the Bulls advantage up front will be too much for Miami– Bulls in 7.
I’m back from Mexico and will be following the rest of the NBA playoffs on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.