Rising In The East?

Will the Chicago Bulls win the Eastern Conference?

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    78%
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    22%

(Total votes: 1,037)

MAYBE
NO WAY

Rose, Bulls' core could pull it out

Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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The Miami Heat are the two-time defending NBA champions and three-time defending Eastern Conference champions. By any measure, their 2010 free agency coup has been a raging success.

The Chicago Bulls have had the best regular-season record in the NBA twice in that span, having little trouble beating the Heat in the regular season, but got only one shot at Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, a 4-1 series loss in 2011.

The Bulls lost to the Heat by the same margin in the second round of last years playoffs without Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and, of course, Derrick Rose, making the series moot.

If the Bulls are so lucky to stay healthy enough to meet Miami in the playoffs again, likely in the conference finals, what makes one think Chicago could beat LeBron James and Co. this time?

Despite public sentiment proclaiming Miami the "team to beat," and the Heat's general lack of interest in a rivalry, the Bulls arent scared of the Heat. Now Chicago has the experience and the X factor to beat them.

The Bulls can defend James, as much as anyone can defend him. The problem is scoring on Miami.

If Rose is healthy, hes a better player than he was during his MVP season, a more confident shooter with two more seasons -- plus a conditioning gap year -- under his belt. But he cant do it alone.

The addition of Jimmy Butler, who was drafted after the 2011 playoffs, gives the Bulls an athletic, scoring two guard, a major upgrade over Keith Bogans. Tom Thibodeau has introduced more advanced offensive concepts over the past two full seasons with Rose, designed to get him the ball through cutting actions.

But theres something more than Xs and Os at play here.

The core of this team, Rose, Carlos Boozer, Deng, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah have been together for four seasons. Continuity is a very good thing in the NBA.

There is a familiarity with this group and a mutual respect.

Weve been through a lot, Deng said. I always believe every team that wins it, you dont just create a team and they go out and win it. You have to go through some things. I think were more mature, were older. I think guys want to win more than anything.

Well see if thats true this summer.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

LeBron, Heat too much to overcome

Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LeBron James.

If you want to know the reason why the Chicago Bulls won't win the Eastern Conference this season just read that name over again. Chicago fans should understand how this works, considering that Michael Jordan dominated the East years ago the way James is right now. Obviously with a healthy Derrick Rose back in the fold, the Bulls should make it to the Eastern Conference finals and they should be able to give the Heat all they can handle. But -- assuming both teams stay relatively healthy -- it's tough to pick against Miami because of James. He's that good. As great of a player as Rose is, and I do believe he will prove to be better than he was before the knee injury, he isn't as great as James.

Aside from the reigning NBA MVP, the Heat have something else that the Bulls do not -- other primary scorers they can lean on if for some reason James can't get it going. In Dwyane Wade and, to a lesser extent, Chris Bosh, the Heat have two proven All-Stars who have demonstrated an ability to take over games offensively when needed. Aside from Rose, the Bulls still don't have that guy. It's been their Achilles heel for three years under coach Tom Thibodeau. If Rose can't get going, or is being slowed down by James, where will the Bulls turn? Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler are all solid players, but none of them have ever shown the capability to be a consistent offensive weapon late in postseason games. In order to beat Miami the Bulls will have to play the best team defense of their lives -- but people forget just how good the Heat can be on that end of the floor when they want to be.

Yes, the Bulls have their best shot to win a championship since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen left Chicago. They have a talented group of players, led by Thibodeau, who badly want to win a championship. But the Bulls don't have James -- the best player on the planet right now -- and ultimately I believe that will be the difference.

Nick Friedell is a reporter for ESPNChicago.com.

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