Sunday, May 15, 2011
Eastern Conference Finals preview + predictions
The Eastern Conference Finals is finally here and the two teams squaring off aren't a surprise. The NBA is a simple sport and very rarely do you a team come out of nowhere to make the final four. This year is no different as everyone picked the Miami Heat to make the Eastern Finals while people were split on the Chicago Bulls or Boston Celtics. This series will feature two of the biggest offseason winners in the Miami Heat who brought in the big three with Lebron James, Chris Bosh and brought back Dwyane Wade. While the Chicago Bulls brought in Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver to go along with the major development of Derrick Rose. This series features an MVP in Derrick Rose and two time MVP Lebron James. Not to mention this series features all-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh while the Bulls have former all-star Carlos Boozer. This series should be an epic battle between one team who is brash and cocky while the other team has stayed low key while just sporting the best record in the NBA. In this following preview I'll break down each team and give three reasons why they will win this series.
First I'll talk about the Miami Heat who have been the story of this NBA season for better and for worse. Miami Heat many thought going into the year would challenge the 1996 Chicago Bulls for 72 wins. Instead the Heat stumbled out of the gate to a 9-8 record. Then in March the Heat lost five games in a row including four on the last possession. One of those losses were to the Chicago Bulls which saw players crying in the locker room. Since then the Heat are 23-5 and have looked dominant. The Heat won 58 games this year with a make shift roster and exorcised some demons by defeating the Boston Celtics in five games. What made that series so special was the fact that Lebron James, who has been unfairly criticized in the past, stepping up hitting clutch shots. Now I'll give you three keys for the Miami Heat to move on.
1. Dwyane Wade is the best shooting guard in basketball:
In a what could of been type of series for Dwyane Wade as he faces off against his hometown team who he almost signed with. Had the Bulls been able to land Wade or Lebron James if not both they would have ran away with the title. Wade was recently snubbed on the all NBA first team for Kobe Bryant. Wade in the regular season averaged 25.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Wade also shot 50.0% from the field. In the playoffs Wade has increased his scoring to 26.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks. He's shooting 48.4% from the field and making 80.0% of his free throws on 9.5 attempts a game. Wade a former NBA finals MVP is playing in his first Eastern Conference finals since 2006 when he was just a third year player who was spoiled having played in back to back Eastern Finals. At the end of games Wade will be a force and more importantly continue to provide leadership to the Heat who at times appears to be fragile.
2. Players #4-12 give the Heat something:
In games four and five against the Boston Celtics the Heat were way too dependent on the big three as the role players scored just 31 points in two games combined. The Heat big three basically beat the Celtics by themselves while that is great don't know if that can happen against the Bulls. The Heat will need Joel Anthony to keep playing great defense(5.7 RPG, 1.6 blocks in 31 minutes. The Heat also need some outside shooting from James Jones who went off during game one against the Celtics. For the playoffs Jones is averaging 7.4 PPG while knocking down 44.4% of his three pointers. The Heat haven't got anything from Mike Bibby or Zydrunas Ilgauskas who has appeared to have fallen out of the rotation after starting the first eight playoff games. If the Heat get anything from players #4-12 this series is pretty much over.
3. Chris Bosh needs to play like an all-star:
The reason the Miami Heat are referred to as the big three because Chris Bosh is also perennial all-star. Bosh took a ton of heat for admitting the game three moment against the Boston Celtics got to him. Bosh is a huge X-Factor for the Heat because when he plays well the Heat typically win. In the regular season Bosh averaged 18.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. Bosh also shot 49.6% from the field and 81.5% from free throw line. In the playoffs Bosh has seen his production fall slightly as he is averaging 16.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks per game. He is also shooting 45.0% from the field and 78.3% on free throws. Bosh has a big difference in production in the Heat victories vs the losses. In the wins Bosh is averaging 18.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. Bosh is also shooting 46.8% from the field and averaged 6.8 free throw attempts a game. In the two playoff losses Bosh has been horrible averaging just 9.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He is shooting just 33.3% from the field and averaging just 3.0 free throw attempts a game. As you can see when Bosh plays well the Heat win as they are 6-0 when he scores 17 or more. The Heat are 2-2 when he doesn't score 17 points.
The Chicago Bulls have grown up a lot from the team that was getting bounced in the first round by Lebron James last year. The Bulls many thought would improve this year but nobody expected them to have the NBA's best record. The Bulls won 62 games behind league MVP Derrick Rose and coach of the year Tom Thibodeau have brought back memories of the 1990's when the Bulls ruled the basketball world. Now the Bulls have another thing going for them this series over the Heat. The Bulls not only have homecourt advantage but they went 3-0 during the regular season against the Heat. Although those three games were decided by a total of eight points and Lebron James didn't play in one of those games. The Bulls feature balance as they had four guys score in double figures on the season and have eight guys average 20 minutes a game. Now I'll give three keys for the Bulls to win this series.
1. Derrick Rose has to play like an MVP:
Ultimately in sports to win big games you need your best players to play their best. It sounds pretty simple and it is why in the last 30 years every champion minus the 2004 Detroit Pistons featured a top five player in the game. For Rose he is getting close to being in the top five if not already. The youngest MVP in the history of the game had an oustanding season scoring 25.0 PPG while dishing out 7.7 APG and shooting 44.5% from the field. Rose has carried this team through injuries which saw Carlos Boozer miss 23 games and Joakim Noah miss 34 games. In the playoffs Rose has carried this team as his teammates aren't playing consistent enough. Rose in the playoffs is averaging 28.8 PPG while dishing out 8.2 APG. Like an MVP should he has increased his totals in the playoffs and the Bulls will need him to continue to do more.
2. Bulls depth is better than the Heat:
The Bulls unlike the Heat only feature one great player in Rose. While the Heat feature two great players but the Bulls feature a better all around roster. The Bulls feature a roster this playoffs that has eight guys average 10 minutes or more. The Bulls in the regular season had four guys average double figures in Rose(25.0), Carlos Boozer(17.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG), Luol Deng(17.4 PPG, 5.8 PPG) and Noah(11.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG). The Bulls are hoping their depth can keep them fresh over the Heat who depends on three guys to do pretty much everything.
3. Will the Utah Jazz version of Carlos Boozer show up?
When the Bulls signed Carlos Boozer they were hoping he could provide those inside points for them. During the season Boozer was hurt and still averaged 17.5 PPG with 9.6 RPG. In the playoffs though Boozer has been terrible. Boozer is averaging just 11.8 PPG and 9.5 RPG while shooting 44.5% which is bad considering most of his points come in the paint. However there might have been a breakthrough for Boozer as he looked like the Boozer of old last game. In the game six close out over the Hawks Boozer scored 23 points while grabbig 10 rebounds. In Boozer's first eight playoff games this year he was averaging just 9.8 points per game while in his last three games he is averaging 17.3 points per game which is what he averaged in the regular season. If Boozer can give the Bulls a consistent 17 points and 10 rebounds a game the Bulls will win this series.
Predictions: Heat in six games
I picked the Heat the second the "decision" happened and I've never back off that. Whenever you feature the two best players on the court and three of the four best players you are going to win. The NBA is a stars league and teams with balance win in the regular season. Teams that feature star power win in the postseason while the Shaq-Kobe teams went to four NBA finals and won three titles despite being a #1 seed just once. I also think Lebron James is focused as he knows this is a career defining moment for him. No athlete has more to lose or gain than James does this postseason. For the playoffs James is averaging 26.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks a game. James is also shooting 47.1% from the field and 35.9% on three pointers making 1.4 a game. He is also shooting 9.2 free throw attempts a game. Whenever you feature a wing combo of Lebron James and Dwyane Wade that will result in multiple championships. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen just agreed with that previous statement. This should be a great series but I expect the year of Lebron to continue to the finals.