Miami Heat Index: Luol Deng

LeBron James
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Derrick Rose heard LeBron James loud and clear in the East finals. Is this the year he beats the Heat?

The Chicago Bulls are off to their best start since the Jordan days, and on Sunday, they'll be looking for revenge. It's the first matchup between these two teams since the Heat ended the Bulls' breakout season in the Eastern Conference finals in five games.

Does Rose have a leg up on LeBron for MVP this season? Is Rose a better big-game player than LeBron or D-Wade? Was Rip Hamilton a bigger signing than Shane Battier? Will the Bulls repeat as East regular-season champs? Will the Bulls reach the Finals?

In another edition of the Heat Index's 5-on-5 series, our stable of writers and voices play some "Fact or Fiction" with the storylines surrounding Sunday's Bulls-Heat matchup.

1. Fact or Fiction: Rose has a better shot at MVP in 2011-12 than LeBron.


Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com: Fiction. LeBron James' biggest detriment is himself, and aside from an early hiccup, his game is blossoming again. I don't know whether Rose can do anything new to impress the voters. Plus, if Hamilton is healthy, Rose's scoring will go down.

Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Fiction. Unless the Bulls challenge their own regular-season win record, I can’t see Rose repeating. To win in consecutive seasons, statistical dominance is a requirement. LeBron, however, is in the midst of one of the most productive and efficient seasons of all time. That kind of performance is what it takes to make a more compelling story than Rose’s campaign.

Beckley Mason, TrueHoop Network: Fiction. Derrick Rose was brilliant last season, but he also benefited from a compelling narrative of improvement. I actually prefer how Rose is playing this season, but his numbers are down a bit, and he'll likely miss a few games to rest his foot. James appears to be indestructible, and this season he's the one turning heads with his improved post game and absurd efficiency.

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Fiction. LeBron already has the momentum he needs, considering his remarkable play over the nine total games Dwyane Wade has missed. Rose was a very nice and deserving winner for how he led the Bulls last season. But that element of surprise is no longer there. This defaults to LeBron.

Brian Windhorst, Heat Index: Fact. The sense is that after what happened in the Finals last season, LeBron is going to be hard-pressed to win another MVP before he wins a title. Unless he and the Heat vastly separate from the rest of the league, which isn't happening, there's probably too much lingering doubt. Of course the MVP is a regular-season award, and it's for this regular season, not last year's playoffs. But the voters might be hesitant to give James a third trophy with the playoff reputation -- two poor Finals and a meltdown in the 2010 second round -- he's carrying.



2. Fact or Fiction: Needing to win one game, you pick Rose over Wade or LBJ.


Greenberg: Fact. I was tempted to say Wade for obvious reasons, but I'll take Rose because of his athleticism and ability to finish and draw fouls. I'm very curious to watch him going against LeBron again late in the game to see what the young MVP has learned.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Although Dwyane Wade might be the better bet in the last few minutes, I prefer to have LeBron for the full 48. His defensive versatility makes up for his passivity concerns down the stretch. Most games (playoffs or not) don't come down to a final possession anyway.

Mason: Fiction, and a trick question to boot! It depends on their opponent and teammates, but I prefer someone who can dominate the game at the defensive end as well. Both LeBron and Wade can completely neutralize a talented wing scorer and defend the rim, so I'd lean toward one of them.

Wallace: Fiction. I'd take LeBron or Wade based on their larger bodies of work. Of the three, my first option would be the only one among them who has the ring to prove he's survived these moments on the ultimate stage before: Wade.

Windhorst: Fiction. I'd rather have Dwyane Wade. He's a champion. He's a vocal and emotional leader. He's fearless. He's experienced. He's impossible to guard when he's on. These things can't be said about Rose or LeBron.



3. Fact or Fiction: R. Hamilton means more to CHI than S. Battier to MIA.


Greenberg: Fact. When Rip is healthy, that is. Hamilton has been a game-time decision for half his Bulls career, but when he plays, the Bulls are a fast-breaking, ball-moving thing of beauty. I know you can't judge Battier by the numbers, but a healthy Hamilton is better by any metric.

Haberstroh: Fact. If the Heat didn’t have Mike Miller and James Jones, I might give the edge to Battier. But even though Hamilton is a shell of his former self, he can give the Bulls exactly what they need: a pressure reliever for Rose and a nuisance for Wade.

Mason: Fact. Battier isn't exactly redundant, but he's far from crucial. Hamilton provides an offensive focal point when Rose sits, and his passing really loosens up the Bulls' offense.

Wallace: Fact. If all works out according to plan, Hamilton will not only be a regular starter, he'll also be a nightly finisher for the Bulls and a key sidekick for Rose. Battier will be a solid bench rotation player and defensive specialist, but Rip will potentially have a bigger impact role.

Windhorst: Fact. Hamilton not only gives the Bulls an upgrade at the wing and scoring they potentially need badly, he's also loaded with playoff experience with a reputation of getting it done in the clutch. Also his offensive style is an asset to have against a team like the Heat, where he can truly challenge a player like Wade by making him move all over the court on defense. Battier has already made an impact with the Heat by taking some defensive pressure off Wade and James, but it would seem that his role would be more limited than Hamilton when he's healthy.



4. Fact or Fiction: The Bulls will be the top seed in the East.


Greenberg: Fact. The Bulls are rolling despite a number of injuries, and that depth will push them to the top seed. The big "if" is Luol Deng's wrist. If he's out, it'll be very tough. They lost one home game, and instead of giving the patented athlete excuses, Rose talked about how mad he was to hear the Pacers celebrating.

Haberstroh: Fact. The Heat couldn’t care less about winning the regular season and might need to rest Chris Bosh, LeBron or Wade for long stretches. Look for the Bulls to own the regular season once again.

Mason: Fact, but just barely. The Bulls seem to have fewer curious letdowns than the Heat, although they don't have the luxury of a second all-world player should Rose's injury issues worsen. This is really a toss-up for me, but the Bulls never look bored, even for stretches, and that should keep them ahead of the Heat.

Wallace: Fact. The Heat simply don't view getting the No. 1 seed in the East as an absolute necessity. They would prefer to rest Wade, LeBron or Chris Bosh rather than chase the best record. Miami could simply repeat what it did last season and win a road game in the playoffs to steal home-court advantage if necessary.

Windhorst: Fact. Their depth and their demeanor seem to indicate that is where they are headed. Their defense is so strong that it is going to carry them almost every night, especially on the road. That is the formula for high-win teams.



5. Fact or Fiction: The Bulls will be the Eastern Conference champs.


Greenberg: Fiction. I picked the Bulls to win it all in the TrueHoop survey, but it's still unclear whether Rose can take LeBron again, because you know that will be the late matchup again: Bulls versus Heat and Derrick versus LeBron in the fourth. If Rose can find a way to win his battle, the Bulls will win their battle. It's what it all comes down to, and they both know it.

Haberstroh: Fiction. Until the Bulls get a legit No. 2 option at shooting guard, expect the Heat to represent the East in the Finals for the foreseeable future. That is, if the Bulls can’t sell Dwight Howard on Chicago.

Mason: Fiction. I like what Hamilton brings to the Bulls, but Ronnie Brewer is perhaps the best player in the league at defending Dwyane Wade. The Bulls don't really play those two at the same time, so I'd expect Hamilton's offensive value to be mitigated by Wade's increased comfort at the other end. In short: Nothing has significantly changed since the Heat spanked the Bulls in the ECF last season.

Wallace: Fiction. No matter where the series is played, the Bulls know the road to the NBA Finals runs through Jamestown in Wade County. The Heat are the team to beat in the East and, barring a major injury, will return to the Finals after dispatching the Bulls. It'll certainly take more than five games this time, though.

Windhorst: Fiction. We'll have to see where everyone's health is if/when they meet in the playoffs. The Bulls have the ability to really slow down the game and rattle the Heat at the offensive end at times. But this team couldn't consistently slow LeBron in either of the past two postseasons. Rose still must prove that he can handle James guarding him as he did so effectively at times in the conference finals last season.


Friday Hotness, headed-to-the-Finals edition

May, 27, 2011
5/27/11
10:54
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • On ESPN Radio, Scottie Pippen says Michael Jordan was the greatest scorer ever, but LeBron James could be the greatest NBA player ever.
  • Matt McHale of By the Horns reminds us that the shot attempts James and Dwyane Wade took down the stretch were precisely what the Bulls wanted: "Remember: The Bulls wanted to force James and Wade to shoot jump shots. That was the plan. Neither man has ever been a high percentage three-point shooter. Neither one of them is or ever has been a lights out shooter from long range. And yet, there they were, gunning the Bulls down with cold-blooded jumpers."
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie: "[James] made his star turn in my eyes because he was aggressive when it counted the most, and because he mixed it up. Because it wasn't all 3-pointers (though that was the case down the stretch in Game 5, as James nailed two of three in the final two minutes) and dunks. It was the smart play, every time. It wasn't all talent and ridiculous athleticism. It was smarts and touch and all the right plays. He also shut down the league's MVP for the second straight fourth quarter, in games that could have gone either way."
  • Statistically, the Heat had about a one percent chance of winning the game at the 3:14 mark.
  • LeBron James called his shot before the game to employees at the United Center.
  • Joakim Noah on the Heat: "Hollywood as Hell, but they’re still very good."
  • Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports on the 2006 Finals: " Cuban was an ungracious loser five years ago, and should’ve watched the way Nowitzki handled the meltdown to Miami. Dirk’s regret was over his own performance, never the officiating. And in that way, Cuban never gave the Heat the proper respect they deserved for winning the title. He blamed it on the officials, declaring that a 2-0 series lead had been blown on the disparity of whistles, on Wade’s parade to the free-throw line. For the rest of the NBA, for those who want to see the Heat fail, the Mavericks represent the last line of defense."
  • At Basketball Reference, Neil Paine posts his NBA Power Rankings, which combine the regular season and playoffs. Ranked No. 1 in overall differential? The Miami Heat. Ranked No. 1 if you limit to "post-trade deadline"? The Dallas Mavericks.
  • Will DeShawn Stevenson get the call to defend Dwyane Wade? From the Twitter feed of NBA.com's John Schuhmann: "Interesting: Wade had 3 FGA in 30 min. w/ Stevenson on floor, & 30 FGA in 50 min. w/ DS on bench."
  • Advanced statistician Wayne Winston thinks the Mavs should be favored: "The key thing to note is Heat played at almost exactly the same level during each series and the Mavs worst effort was better than the Heat’s best."
  • Stephon Marbury, tweeting in a very loud voice: "THIS IS THE YEAR THE NBA WILL CROWN THE KING. PASS THEM RINGS DAVID!!! (LBj6 VOICE)"
  • No doubt Luol Deng would like to be making arrangements for the NBA Finals this morning, but his consolation prize from Thursday night will endure in YouTube libraries everywhere.

Wade takes costly risk and pays the price

February, 25, 2011
2/25/11
1:16
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- To help or not to help. That is the conundrum.

The crucial moment in the Bulls’ 93-89 victory Thursday night came with 16 seconds left and the game tied. How it played out is a classic argument in the game of basketball, an odd crossroads for the Heat’s defensive system and the decision led to some raw feelings within the team.


Jerry Lai/US Presswire
Luol Deng stuck the dagger. Was Dwyane Wade to blame?

LeBron James was defending Derrick Rose, who had the ball at the top of the key in a classic star vs. star situation. Dwyane Wade was on the Bulls’ other main scoring threat, Luol Deng, who was positioned in the corner.

Rose drove, as is his specialty, and James retreated and poised himself for a pivotal moment in a big game. That moment came, just not in the way James expected.

Wade left Deng in the corner to collapse into the lane and offer James help on one of the best drivers in the game. Technically, in the Heat’s system this is a proper play the majority of the time, as they are a team that will accept a long jumper instead of a higher percentage shot in the paint. The Heat players are taught and drilled on these principles from training camp on.

The problem was, in a spot like that, leaving Deng for such a clear look was a big risk -- especially when James appeared to recover and have a favorable angle to challenge a Rose shot, as well as some back-line support from the Heat's interior defenders.

But Rose saw Wade’s decision and exploited it quickly and expertly, hitting Deng with a perfect pass as Deng nailed the game-winning shot.

So who was right and who was wrong?

It depended on who you asked.

“You try to shrink the floor and you make someone else beat you,” said Wade, defending his actions.

“You can look at it over and over again and maybe at the end, when he bobbled it, LeBron had him but by then I was stuck. He made a great pass and Deng hit a heck of a shot.”

Deng is a 34 percent 3-point shooter and was 0-of-3 on the night. Wade’s stance, especially considering Rose’s skill at avoiding defenders in the paint, seems to have merit. But James clearly didn’t see it that way.

“I felt like I played good defense on Rose … I had position,” James said. “And he made a good play and they hit a great shot.”

James was instantly upset Wade had come to help and fired his teammate an angry glare. As Wade rushed back toward Deng, his head dropped, knowing he’d given up too easy of a look.

Heat coach Erik Spolestra declined to take a clear side, but it seemed like he felt Wade should have stayed at home on Deng in such a situation.

“Regardless of what happened, we made several mistakes defensively,” Spoelstra said. “In a tight game like this, it is tough to come up with open looks. We showed a lack of discipline too often in a close game like this and we paid for it.”

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