Who has the edge: Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls
CENTER: The contrast between the Bulls' Joakim Noah and the Heat's Chris Bosh couldn't be more stark. Noah is, well, a bull in the lane, playing far more with force than finesse on both sides of the ball. Bosh, by contrast, will try to keep Noah away from the paint with his outside shot, minimizing Noah's shot-blocking and defensive rebounding. That could lead to a cross-match, particularly if Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stays with Udonis Haslem as his starting power forward, thereby allowing Noah to cover Haslem and Carlos Boozer to step out on Bosh. As for Noah vs. Bosh, Noah's sore foot could swing that head-to-head outlook, but he was flat out awesome Saturday against the Nets Edge: Bulls
POWER FORWARD: The assumption, based on the Heat's first-round success and ongoing efficiency with the alignment, is that Erik Spoelstra will stay with Udonis Haslem as his starting power forward. Whether Haslem lines up against Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer is another story, with a cross-match against Chicago center Joakim Noah possible. While Haslem's outside stroke was true against the Bucks in the first round, the focus in the matchup at power forward will be containing Boozer, who averaged 19 points on 54.4-percent shooting and 15 rebounds in the four regular-season meetings. Edge: Bulls
SMALL FORWARD: LeBron James was dominant in the four-game regular-season series, averaging 28 points on .638 shooting, with eight rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Once viewed as a prime LeBron stopper, Bulls small forward Luol Deng has come to be regarded as something less in recent seasons, beaten down by a series of injuries. Deng shot only .377 in the four regular-season meetings, averaging 14.8 points in those games. The Bulls likely will come with a variety of defenders against James, especially with it unknown whether Deng can make it back from his spinal tap. Edge: Heat
SHOOTING GUARD: For all of the Bulls' injury concerns, the greatest unknown is the status of Dwyane Wade's bruised right knee. While he insisted he could have played if needed in the Heat's closeout victory in Milwaukee a week ago Sunday, the reality is that Wade has not been seen in action since Game 3 against the Bucks on April 25. By contrast, Jimmy Butler has proven to be a revelation for the Bulls on the wing, with an ability to provide quality perimeter defense. A healthy Wade would give the Heat a substantial margin at the position. But will the Heat get to see the best of Wade? Then there is the factor of how much defense a hobbled Kirk Hinrich can add against Wade. Edge: Heat
POINT GUARD: Among the reasons you never know what you're going to get from the Bulls at point guard is you don’t know who you're going to get at point guard. Is it the defensive grit of Kirk Hinrich? The all-or-nothing offense of Nate Robinson? And since he hasn't definitively ruled out the season, could Derrick Rose yet emerge as a factor? In contrast, the Heat have gotten healthy consistency, if not huge numbers, from Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. So the matchup comes down to reliability as much as productivity. But the Bulls have the potential to get more out of the position. Potentially. Edge: Even
BENCH: It used to be that the Bulls' bench was dominant. But beyond the offseason loss of former contributors such as C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver, injuries have so decimated the Bulls that it's difficult to tell who is starting and who is sitting. Then there are the likes of Rip Hamilton, Vladimir Radmanovic and Daequan Cook who seemed to have disappeared. The Heat, by contrast, have the definitive four-man bench core of Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Shane Battier and Norris Cole that has excelled this postseason, arguably as significant as any group of reserves in these playoffs. Edge: Heat
COACHING: This is an interesting contrast, one that is key to this series: While Erik Spoelstra has excelled in installed a winning system, he still can fall back on the singular skills of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to pull him through. By contrast, Tim Thibodeau has to push and prod and constantly search for answers for his team to succeed. In other words, at this moment, the Bulls need Thibodeau more than the Heat need Spoelstra. For the Heat to win the series, Spoelstra merely has to be good. For the Bulls to win, Thibodeau has to be great. Edge: Even
INTANGIBLES: While Dwyane Wade's sore right knee is a concern for the Heat, the Bulls' sore everything of everyone is a greater concern. There is one injury, however, that could change the complexion of the series, and that is Derrick Rose coming back from the knee injury that has had him out since the first round of last season's playoffs. For an offensively challenged team, Rose in short bursts could make a difference for the Bulls. But that Heat have been dominant at home this season and have shown an ability to win on the road when needed. There simply is too much in flux for these Bulls at this moment. Edge: Heat
PREDICTION: The games, themselves, figure to be highly competitive, because that's simply the way Heat-Bulls goes. And there will be plenty of physical play and several moments when the referees will dictate the tone of the game. This is the type of series where the games could be close but not the overall scope of the series. The Heat will feel it against Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, but they may not have to feel it for too many games, with the Bulls already running on fumes. It seemingly would take a miracle comeback from Derrick Rose to push the Heat to the brink. Pick: Heat in five
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