Friday, May 13, 2011

ECF Preview (or, Rambling Bulls' Love and Heat Hate)

Well, since the Bulls finished off the Hawks Thursday (and maybe even since we won game 5), I've been thinking about this Bulls/Heat series. I hadn't been nervous or anxious for either of the first two rounds. Even when we faced a critical game 5 against the Hawks, I wasn't worried. I just felt/knew that we would win, and we did. But since then, a familiar feeling has returned ... anxiousness that can only come from an NBA playoff series against a team that you HATE.

I knew this feeling recently back in April and May of 2009, when the Bulls went 7 games against the modern-NBA's first "Big 3", the Boston Celtics. The archives here at BBS prove how much I hated that team (and how much the series meant to me) as it was the busiest 2 months ever (118 posts over a two-month stretch).

I wrote a few coherent thoughts and mostly spewed hate-filled venom for the same reasons I am compelled to write this preview despite how little I have been writing in this space lately. I am compelled to write because I love the Bulls and, perhaps just as much, because I HATE the Heat. Sports hate is a wonderful thing, as it gives us an "enemy" - our own creation that we can build up and then hopefully destroy in a great triumph. And that's what these Miami Heat represent, this team that we hate and want nothing more than for our Bulls to knock out of the playoffs and "prove" that what they did (and how they did it) was wrong.

But can the Bulls actually knock off the Heat in a 7-game series?! I honestly don't know, but here are some rambling thoughts (hopes?) on why we might be able to pull it off.

When I started thinking about this series, my basketball brain said "Heat in 6", while my heart desperately hoped for Bulls in 7. First, here's why I think the Heat could win in 6:

I'm not sure I can say this enough: I HATE the Heat ... hate hate HATE! But if we try to remove all bias and hate, this is an NBA team with Dwyane Wade AND Lebron James. That's a pretty great tandem by any measure. (Any measure outside of Chicago, where they don't really stack up against MJ and Pip - but that's another issue for another time). In reality, these are 2 of the best players in the A, and they are playing on the same team! Regardless of any of the other players, that is already a formidable opponent.

Now imagine Chris Bosh made 3/4 of his current salary. He's no longer a max-contract guy, but instead makes about $10.8 million this season (or about $.5 million less than Deng). If that were the case (and if he weren't on the Heat), we'd all be saying that he's the best 3rd banana in the league! He put up 18ppg and 8rpg as the 3rd wheel this season ... so what really sucks about him is his contract/salary, not what he does on the court.

OK, enough of that why-the-Heat-are-actually-good nonsense, allow me to rant quickly on why I hate the Heat ...

Early in his career, I respected (and even enjoyed) Lebron's game. But a discussion with 2 friends a few years back changed my opinion. Like many others, I had been ignoring the selfish and ego-maniacal acts off the court and focusing only on his game on the court. But thanks to that conversation about 4 years ago, I saw the light - I realized how much I hated Lebron. Talented, yes. Enjoyable, or even likable, NO. So I hated Lebron before the decision last summer, and it was even easier for me to hate him (and the Heat) after. I was even proud of Bulls organization when we "failed" to sign that punk.

In the present, everyone hates Lebron and the Heat for how they were assembled, which will make this series even more fun. On my end? I hate every little thing about Lebron ... the Heat just beat the Celtics and celebrated like they won a title. There is this ridiculous Lebron "overcame the obstacle" storyline, as though he FINALLY managed to overcome the Celtics the way MJ and Pip finally beat the Pistons. Two thoughts: (1) If i tried to climb a wall, but couldn't get to the top, and then walked around the wall to the other side ... you wouldnt say i overcame an obstacle - you'd say i took the easy way out. (2) Lebron says "As much as I loved my teammates back in Cleveland" - which is basically like starting a sentence with the words "With all due respect", it means you're going to disrespect the person you're addressing. "I knew I couldn’t do it by myself against that team." So basically, those guys were so bad that Lebron was playing 1-against-5 last year. He didn't go to Miami just to get MORE help, he went to Miami to get ANY help at all because those players were nothing! He was playing alone! 1-against-5! ... But he started the sentence saying I LOVED my old teammates! What an egotistical fucking prick.

I've spent the last few days reading analysis and trying to breakdown each matchup and the teams as a whole. There are many bloggers and analysists much better suited for that task than I. Here are a few of the better takes I've seen:

(HoopsHype) Chicago Bulls (62-20) vs. Miami Heat (58-24): (Predicts Heat in 6)

(Pro Basketball Talk) Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Bulls vs. Heat: (Predicts Heat in 6)

(Bulls Confidential) How the Bulls can beat the Heat

(CBS - Eye on Basketball) Bulls-Heat Preview: Clash of the you-know-whats: (Predicts Heat in 7)

[This is a must-read breakdown, and not just because Zach Lowe picks the Bulls]
(SI - The Point Forward) Bulls vs. Heat Eastern finals: What to watch: (Predicts Bulls in 7)

Most ECF previews and predictions break down the matchups by position, so here are my rambling thoughts in that format:

Basically, we need our combo of Boozer and Taj to match Bosh. That matchup has to be a wash for most of the other stuff to matter. However, the thing to remember is that Bosh is the Heat's 3rd option! So if both teams get 18/10 from their respective PFs, we've only matched their 3rd option with the guy who was supposed to be our second option (Boozer), and his backup (because I assumed Taj will get significant minutes, and the Heat don't have a backup ... so it's Booz + Taj against Bosh!).

Next, we have Rose dominating the PG matchup. Not worth discussing.

Noah should dominate the C matchup in a similar manner, but he's not an offensive player that can take over and win a game. He needs to dominate on the glass and by being available for help D (taking up space in the lane and altering shots). This is where Asik comes in, and where I once again use the buddy system (Noah + Asik) to point out the Bulls' advantage over the Heat's craptastic group of Cs. Again, the key aspect being dominating the paint (or as Simmons' calls it: the 6-feet in front of the rim), we have two guys capable of controlling that space ... do the Heat have anyone? (Should that be "has" or "have" - I hate singular team names, another strike against the Heat.)

Then we get to the Heat's advantages: Wade and Lebron. These 2 are unstoppable, and it's still somewhat shocking that they play on the same NBA team. But the Bulls' have wing players to make things ... interesting? difficult? Bogans and Brewer are great defenders at the 2, and anything we get offensively is pure bonus. Deng has quietly (or perhaps not quietly) been the Bulls' non-Rose-MVP. He's been spactacular: hitting 3s, slashing, rebounding, and most importantly on D. His footwork has improved exponentially and he really gets Thibs' system. He was a really good defender before, and he is GREAT now ... so he can certainly challenge Lebron. But clearly, both matchups heavily favor the Heat.

So in the 5 major matchups ... we have: 1 tie, Bulls favored in 2, and Heat favored in 2.

I keep coming back to our 2 advantages (Rose and Noah), versus their 2 advantages (Wade and Lebron). Rose and Noah should both be HUGE advantages for the Bulls, while Wade and Lebron(hopefully) aren't quite as big of advantages for the Heat, given our D players at those spots and Thibs' system. Obviously Wade and Lebron can't won't be stopped, but we can make them work for everything with our defensive personnel and Thibs' system, which funnels and helps with perimeter stars.

Beyond positional match-ups and our-system-versus-their-players analysis, I think that Rose or Wade or Lebron will be the best player on the floor any given night. And often, the team with the best player during a playoff game can win that game. Clearly, with Wade AND Lebron, the Heat have the advanatage of having a better chance at having the best player on any given night. I'm thinking that one of Wade or Lebron should be the best player in 4-5 games during this series, with Rose being the best player 2 or possibly (hopefully?) 3 times out of 7 games. This means the Heat will likely have the best player on the floor for 4 (or 5) games out of 7, with Rose taking that role 2 (or hopefully 3) times ... and the Bulls will need a team effort to overcome that disadvantage.

We can only expect Rose to carry the offense so far. We need Noah to get O-rebs and putbacks, we need Korver to knock down shots, we need Taj and CJ to provide a spark off the bench ... we need what we've gotten all season. If we are going to beat the Heat, we are going to ride on Rose's back, but he'll need some help ... it'll be our hometown superstar leading a Bulls' TEAM past Miami's two and a half men. We need other guys to step up and overcome one big night from Wade or Lebron and maybe swing one game when Rose isn't the best player. Can that be done by Luol? or the Booz/Taj combo? or the Bulls' BenchMob - possibly Korver or CJ?

The Bulls have home-court advantage + everyone is HOPING they win, but almost everyone predicting the Heat will win, so the Bulls are somehow the underdogs with home-court advantage. They can ride the energy of the crowd (and entire country outside of Miami) cheering for them, while still having an "us against the world" mindset. So after all that ... I think it's a pretty even series. Maybe the Heat steal game 1, they can shock and overwhelm the shock Bulls as they adjust from playing the Hawks. The Bulls bench is much more talented, and won't be facing such a tough environment in Miami, so they will help the Bull to re-set homecourt by winning game 4.

So I end up where I started - brain (Heat in 6) versus heart (Bulls in 7). And either way, I'm proud to be a life-long Bulls fan as we head into this series. We've all waited 12 long years to get back to this point, playing in (and having a real chance to win) the Eastern Conference Finals, and it really was worth the wait. Maybe the Heat will beat the Bulls and win the title this year, and their "fans" can celebrate at their second "championship rally" less than 12-months after that team became relevant ...

But Bulls' fans don't need a "super team" or 2.5 superstars to support our team. We stuck around for a pretty rough decade after "The Last Dance", whether they were winning or losing, true Bulls' fans have stayed with this team. We've waited 12 years for the Bulls to get back here, and whether it's in two months or next year or five years from now, the wait will be worth it when this Bulls team brings the old summer tradition back to Chicago. Summer starts with a rally in Grant Park, I'll be at the next one no matter how long I have to wait.

But for the record, I've got the Bulls over the Heat in 7, and I'll see you all at the rally in June.

[RE-POST] Chicago Bulls: An Organization of Integrity (Be Proud Bulls' Fans)


I had pretty low expectations for the Bulls' Organization heading into "Summer of 2010" - you might even say I was pessimistic!

But realistically, I assumed the organization had a "Plan A" (sign Chris Bosh and fill some needs), or "Plan B" (sign Carlos Boozer and fill some needs). Those were reasonable, albeit slightly hopeful, expectations.

Then came the talk that the Bulls had a chance at Wade and LeBron, and even I bought into the hype. If you read BBS or follow me on twitter (@bullbearsock), then you know I am a "LeBron Hater," but even I couldn't resist the lure of potentially landing one of the best players on earth.

Turns out, we never had a shot at Wade or LeBron, and we never even had a chance to sign Bosh. The "Big 3" agreed to play together a long time before free agency started, and all of the meetings were for show (literally, as Wade and Bosh might make a documentary about the "experience").

What has been lost in all of this is just how good of a summer the Bulls have had when weighed against plans and expectations. If Miami wasn't stealing all of the attention, more people would be talking about how the Bulls have addressed some major needs and really improved.

With signing of Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver, along with signing JJ Redick to an offer sheet (that Orlando is expected to match), the Bulls have done just that. We also signed former-draft-pick Omer Asik to add some depth to the front line. We're not done, but if Redick is matched, we can go after other SG options: Ronnie Brewer or Josh Childress. We still need a backup PG, possibly Shaun Livingston or Kyle Lowry. Once we fill those needs, the Bulls will be a significantly improved team from last season.

But beyond the improvements the Bulls have made to the roster, the organization put on a great display of integrity and class. It's somewhat buried in the link above, but worth linking again and pointing out:

It was also made known to James that the Heat would take care of his friends the same way the Cavs did -- special treatment at the arena, changing practice and travel schedules to allow for money-making late-night parties in various cities, and perhaps even hiring a James associate in a high-paying position in the organization.


The Bulls' chances were diminished for two central reasons. Wade wasn't willing to go to his own hometown. And the Bulls made it clear James' friends would not be given the privileges they were given in Cleveland or the high-paying jobs.

So maybe the Bulls didn't land LeBron (or Wade or Bosh), but the organization did the right thing. Instead of getting caught up in doing or saying anything to lure a FA to Chicago, the Bulls took the high road. I'll admit it sucks to lose out on those "top tier" FAs, but I could not be prouder to be a Bulls fan this summer. I'm glad the Bulls made the difficult (but correct) choice not to pander to the needs of a prima dona punk. LeBron has won as many NBA titles as I have, and is not bigger than the game of basketball.

I realize the "3 Miam-Egos" are the early favorites to win the title, but I have some serious doubts about that. Boston won with their "big 3" a few years ago, but they weren't filling the roster with minimum salary guys. They had a good defensive center and a PG that turned out to be better than anyone expected. This Heat team is 3 players and no one else. They may be overwhelmingly more talented at 3 positions, but they will be lacking everywhere else.

Additionally, I would much rather be a fan of an organization with class and dignity. The fair-weather, front-running Heat fans can have their "best trio ever" (as Wade referred to the new Heat trio the other day ... maybe he never watched MJ/Pippen/Rodman, or even MJ/Pippen and Will Perdue). It will be fun to hate LeBron and the Heat, and even more fun to cheer for a Bulls team filled with lovable players.

Maybe the Bulls aren't the favorites to win the title after "Summer of 2010," but I could not be prouder to be a fan of this team and this organization.

[RE-POST] LeBron to Bulls? ... Confessions of a "LeBron Hater"


I will say it up front: I hate LeBron James. I hate his quest to become a "global icon" and I hate his cocky attitude. Everything he does is annoying to me. I was visibly upset when he stole the show at the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest 2 years ago, only to back out and not even compete last year. It was a ploy for attention, because he's an attention-grabbing, me-first kind of guy. I hated him even more when he walked off without shaking hands against the Magic.

I take delight in his failures, and love all the negativity that resulted from "Game 5" against the Celtics. Instead of taking the blame (like MJ, Magic, Bird, etc. would have), he was defiant. Then he had a pretty bad game last night, despite what his triple-double indicates - he shot 8/21 FG and had 9 TOs to go along with his gaudy numbers. It was like he was forcing the triple-double to make a point that it wasn't his fault. It's his team, and it's his fault.

I have often made my hatred for LeBron known, and so I am frequently asked the obvious question: "What will you do if the Bulls sign LeBron this summer?" And the answer is complicated ...

DC (another BBS contributor) recently summarized my thought process on twitter:
@DanFXC: I hope the bulls don't even make lebron an offer. But when they do I hope he signs. I'm OK with this hypocrisy.

As a die-hard NBA fan, I watch a lot of basketball. I recognize talent, and it's obvious that LeBron is the best player in the Association. (I might technically argue that Kobe is a better basketball player and LeBron is the best athlete playing basketball, but that's not the point.) LeBron is awesome. I went to game 3 of the Bulls/Cavs series a couple weeks ago, and it was incredible. I hated every single second of it, but LeBron was ridiculous. Just so we're clear, I get it: he's great. So would I want the best player on my team? Seems dumb to say no. But I hate him so much, how can I possibly say yes?

I will cheer for the Bulls. I will hope they win every game, just like I do now and always have. But I will never love LeBron the way I love those 1990s Bulls players: MJ, Pippen, BJ Armstrong, Jud Buechler, Horace, Rodman, Will Perdue, Craig Hodges, Cliff Levingston (the list goes on and on ...) and current Bulls D-Rose and JoaNoah. I will never love LeBron like that. He will never be included in my list of "Top 10 Favorite Bulls' Players" (or even my 'Top 25'). I hate him enough that I can be sure of that.

But my loyalty to the Bulls goes much deeper than my LeBron hate. I was only 7 years old, but I still hate the 'Bad Boy Pistons' for walking off the floor when we completed the sweep in 1991. I still remember being mad at Magic a couple weeks later, when the Bulls whooped the Lakers and tied the 1991 NBA Finals 1-1, and he said (with a been-there-won-that swagger): "You could lose by 1 or lose by 20, it's still 1-1". I grew up thinking that every summer started with a Chicago Bulls Championship parade. I didn't hope we would win, I expected it. (That's how good MJ and Pippen were.) I ran up and down the streets banging pots and pans after Pax hit the "3 for the 3-peat". I followed MJ's baseball career, and defended Scottie after "the migraine". I loved the "Beatles-esque" aura that surrounded the 72-win team with Jordan, Pippen and Rodman. I know exactly where I was the day we drafted Dickey Simpkins. I cried, literally cried, when Phil Jackson called 1998 "The Last Dance." I watched us draft the co-rookie of the year, then trade him after he put up two-straight 20/10 seasons. I even hung with the Bulls when they signed the arch-enemy, John Starks. I was there for drafting BG only to let him walk for nothing, and I still wear my draft-day hat from the night we drafted Tyrus Thomas. I jumped up and hugged my roommate when we won the 1.7%-chance lotto for D-Rose, two grown men hugging and yelling like 5-year-olds.

I've blindly stayed committed to this team for the last 12 years. We have had a couple ups, but many more downs. It's been frustrating and terrifying and awful, but I couldn't be swayed ... I'm a Bulls fan. It's what I am, and it's all I know. I know what it's like to win and win and win (twice). So I have held onto that hope during the last twelve seasons, hoping that we can get to that point again. We've had some steps in the right direction, and could be taking a big step toward that goal this summer. And if signing LeBron gives us the best chance to win (and win and win), I will support that signing and support him, because he will be a member of my team.

He's not my first choice this summer, as I'd gladly take Wade or Bosh instead ... but I will support my team regardless of what happens. Maybe after I spend some time supporting the Bulls, and thus LeBron in a Bulls uniform, I will even begin to stop disliking him. I doubt it, but it's possible. But I know that whatever our starting lineup ends up being next year, if LeBron is on the Bulls, he will be my fifth favorite player in that group.