No fans need a reminder of the Heat’s success, not after three-straight NBA Finals appearances and two-consecutive championships. In regard to the Bulls, however, fans may have quickly forgotten that it was Chicago, not Miami, that had the NBA’s best regular-season records in Derrick Rose‘s final two seasons before his knee injury.
As players from both franchises will attest, these teams really do not like each other. From Miami’s point-of-view, the Bulls are detestable because they, well, have Joakim Noah. The ever-hustling, elbow-throwing, ponytail-rocking, first-time All Star is the epitome of the Bulls’ tough, relentless, defense-first, never-say-die style, and probably ranks high on any opposition’s list of least-favorite players.
For the Bulls, the Heat have LeBron James. Though they are far from the only team to fall under The King’s reign, Chicago has been one of his most tormented victims. In fact, LeBron’s teams have dispatched of the Bulls in three of the last four postseasons, dating back to his final season in Cleveland.
Though the Heat hold a clear upper-hand, this rivalry is far from a done deal. In only one of those three playoff matchups can the Bulls have been counted as true championship contenders and stood a legitimate chance at defeating James’ teams. The 2010 playoffs followed Rose’s second NBA season, while last year the Bulls were without Rose, and the majority of the rest of Chicago’s key players were MacGyvered together with duct tape and paper clips just so they could play the game.
The true intensity of this grudge match has been put on hold since the Heat dispatched the Bulls in five close games in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, but now it will be back in full swing. In addition to Rose, poised to have a monster comeback season, Chicago can expect better play as an offensive unit, as the team learned how to succeed without their MVP last season.
Jimmy Butler stands to improve in his third season after a breakout postseason, while the team added Mike Dunleavy to play the “stretch four” and create matchup problems. Chicago still has Carlos Boozer to muscle Chris Bosh around, Noah to to do the dirty work and an All Star in Luol Deng to do his best to contain James.
The key to the Heat’s three-peat chances is the health and effectiveness of Dwyane Wade, who should have had his nickname changed from “Flash” to “Flashes” after his up-and-down championship run last year. Chicago just happens to have Kirk Hinrich waiting in the wings, who has been a career thorn in Wade’s side, even when Wade was in his prime.
This was never more evident than in 2007, when Hinrich held the Miami superstar to four points under his season average en route to a four-game sweep of the defending NBA champions. Now, back in a role-player mode that suits him at this stage of his career, Hinrich can focus all his intensity on defense and three-point shooting when he comes off the bench.
Of course, Miami made their share of additions, as well, most notably in the form of a couple of wild cards. For Michael Beasley, the question has never been a matter of talent, but motivation. If Miami can get any postseason production out of Greg Oden, it will be a plus, as Oden ate Noah alive in the 2007 NCAA Championship game, to the tune of 25 points and 12 rebounds.
As long as the pesky Indiana Pacers or new-look Brooklyn Nets do not get in the way, we should experience Rose and James in a head-to-head playoff matchup for the third time in five years. With any luck, the league’s last two MVPs will duke it out with NBA Finals glory on the line, each trying to add a chapter in his respective legacy.