There will be spectacular plays because this series features three of the most dynamic players in the league. Derrick Rose will break somebody’s ankle with a crossover, LeBron James will destroy someone in the open court. Bank on it.
But highlights will not win this series. Defense will. That starts with Game 1 Sunday night (played Sunday not Monday because Oprah needs the building, and what Oprah wants in Chicago Oprah gets).
The Bulls have the deserved reputation on defense, they had the very best defense in the NBA this past season. But the Heat were fifth, and they are especially well equipped to handle Derrick Rose. As much as anyone is equipped to handle Rose.
Miami has said they will start with Mike Bibby on Rose. That should last about two possessions. Dwyane Wade will get a lot of time on him, spelled off the bench by Mario Chalmers. Plus, LeBron will be on him at times, too. All of them will be physical with Rose (especially if the referees let them play a little).
Look for the Heat to trap Rose as he comes off the pick-and-roll — that is Miami’s standard move and in this series they really want to get the ball out of Rose’s hands to make someone else beat them. Rose has been dealing with this better through the playoffs, but the Heat will be aggressive with their traps. And they have the athletes to do it.
At the other end Joakim Noah will be key because if Bosh gets going the Heat will be impossible to keep from scoring. Matt already covered this — whichever power forward gets going in this series will give his team a big boost.
But look for the Heat to keep Bosh out on the perimeter at times, then run some weak-side action to free guys up at the same time. Essentially, pull Noah away from the basket then have guys cutting to the basket for passes. Because Carlos Boozer does not fiercely defend the rim.
This brings us to one key for the Heat this series — they just played a series against this defense. The Boston Celtics still run the Tom Thibodeau defense he put in as an assistant. The Bulls system is the same and while they are running it better than Boston the Heat have seen this for the last five games. They have studied the film, they understand the actions. This is a big plus for Miami, there is no wheel to reinvent.
Look for the Heat to run a lot of baseline cuts from the weakside, something they had success with last series.
Noah is part of one other big key for the Bulls — they need easy second chance points off offensive rebounds.
Whichever team can get the more easy buckets in Game 1 and through the series will have an advantage. For the Heat, that means create turnovers and get Wade and James out in transition.
This is going to be a knock down, drag out series and this is just Game 1. But expect Game 1 to be a good one.