CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls players and coaches know that the Miami Heat pose serious threats in their quest to getting to the NBA Finals. The key for Tom Thibodeau and Co. is to focus on the matchups that favor them and take full advantage. Here are five things to keep an eye on as we get set for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday night at the United Center.
1. Does Rose have another gear? Derrick Rose has been dominant throughout the season, but he has struggled at times during the playoffs with his shot. That can't happen against the Heat. Rose has to be great in every game for the Bulls to win. If that means playing like he did in Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks, when he racked up 19 points and 12 assists, then that's what he has to do. But more than likely, Rose is going to have to put the Bulls on his back at times and carry them offensively as he has done all season. His teammates believe the MVP has another gear that he can take his game to over the next few weeks. If he does that, it won't matter whom the Heat put on him because they probably won't be able to stop him.
2. Who wins the Boozer-Bosh clash? These two don't seem to like each other very much, and that dislike will only intensify in this series. Carlos Boozer has already taken subtle digs at Chris Bosh saying that the Heat only have two superstars. He may be right, but there's little doubt he was trying to tweak Bosh in the process. For the Bulls to win, Boozer must play like he did in Game 6 against the Hawks and provide Rose with some offensive help. He's got to win this matchup against Bosh, since Bosh will most likely guard him throughout the series. If Boozer plays well in this series and gets the best of Bosh, many will look past the fact that he was almost nonexistent over the course of the first two rounds of the playoffs. If he struggles early against Bosh and can't find an offensive rhythm, the boos at the United Center will come out early and often.
3. Have a party, Joakim: Aside from Rose's clear advantage at the point guard position over Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers, the Bulls have another large advantage at center. They have an athletic big man in Joakim Noah who still hasn't hit his stride in the playoffs. Noah should be able to get the best of Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. At times, Noah has played well, but he hasn't been as consistent as Thibodeau would like over the past week, registering no points in Game 5 against the Hawks. There's no reason Noah can't average a double-double in this series. He is a more skilled offensive player than Anthony, and he can move up and down the floor much faster than Ilgauskas. If he defends Bosh the same way he did in the regular season, the Bulls should be on their way to a series victory.
4. Plenty of depth: The Bulls have had one of the best benches in the league all season. The Heat ... not so much. Thibodeau will lean on Rose and Luol Deng in this series even more than usual, but there will still be openings for players such as Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas and C.J. Watson to contribute. When they get in the game, they must produce. They have to use their energy to push the tempo against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who will almost certainly be playing well over 40 minutes a game. The Bench Mob has been solid all season, so this is another area in which the Bulls must take full advantage.
5. Slowing down James and Wade: Thibodeau started laughing when the topic of stopping James came up on Saturday. He knows his players won't be able to stop him completely, he just wants them to make things as tough as possible for him. Same goes for Wade. The Bulls know that both players will get theirs; they just want to stop everybody else. It sounds a lot like the same strategy the Bulls used against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic earlier this season: allow Howard to get his points, but close off everything else. The key for the Bulls is not allowing James and Wade to get anything easy in transition. Once they do that, they have even more confidence to attack the rim. Run them off screens, stay in their face, and wear them out over the course of 48 minutes. The onus will be on Deng, Keith Bogans and Brewer to slow down the Heat's dynamic duo. If they do the job, the Bulls will be headed to the NBA Finals.