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Friday, May 13, 2011

Chicago Versus Miami Preview

Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Chicago (62-20) vs. #2 Miami (58-24)

Season series: Chicago, 3-0

Miami can win if...the Heat force a lot of turnovers that they convert into transition points. The Heat are an aggressive defensive team--particularly on the perimeter--but they can be vulnerable inside against patient, physical teams that do not panic and do not turn the ball over. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are almost impossible to stop in the open court but elite defensive teams can at least slow them down in the half court by building a "wall" around the paint and forcing them to shoot jump shots.

Chicago will win because...the Bulls are a tough, physical, defensive-minded team that will seal off the paint and force James and Wade to make contested two point jump shots. The Bulls run excellent half court offensive sets and their big men can give the Heat some problems by attacking the paint for layups, dunks and offensive rebounds.

Other things to consider: When the Heat eliminated the Boston Celtics in five games they celebrated as if they had won the NBA title, prompting TNT's Charles Barkley to wonder aloud if the Heat realized that all they had done was win a second round series (contrast the Heat's reaction with how the Mavs responded to beating the Lakers and also keep in mind that the Celtics don't even raise banners for conference championships, a level of success that the Heat are still four wins away from attaining). If the Heat feel like beating the Celtics is equivalent to winning the NBA title and/or cleared the path to easily doing so then they are in for quite a shock; the Celtics are proud former champions but they are old and they lack the physical presence in the paint that they had before they traded Kendrick Perkins.

The Boston-Miami storyline captured the public's imagination but the Chicago-Miami storyline is at least as interesting in its own right; while many teams literally begged LeBron James to sign with them last summer, Derrick Rose reportedly told James that James could join the strong team that the Bulls were building or else the Bulls would defeat James if he went somewhere else. Rose is trying to lead his hometown team to an NBA title without the benefit of playing alongside a big name superstar but the Bulls are much more talented and deep than the national media is willing to admit (the national media have convinced themselves that only Kobe Bryant has a good supporting cast--though perhaps this year's playoffs have at least caused them to tentatively reconsider this idea--and that every other team is fatally flawed in some way); I would take Chicago's deep frontcourt as a collective unit over the Lakers' more touted frontcourt even though Pau Gasol is the most talented individual frontcourt player on either team.

LeBron James is a better all-around individual player than Derrick Rose but Rose has a finely tuned sense of exactly what his team needs for him to do; it sometimes seems like James is trying to prove a point or trying to accumulate particular numbers as opposed to simply making the right play, though he did perform brilliantly in the clutch (even if the "stat gurus" might not technically define what James did as "clutch") down the stretch of game five to eliminate the Celtics (which is exactly what I predicted James would do, though I thought that he would have to do it in game seven instead of game five). It would be deliciously ironic if Rose and his supposedly no-name supporting cast--a team very similar to the one that James left behind in Cleveland--beat the star-studded Miami Heat.

Have you noticed that almost nothing that has come out of James' mouth in the past year or so made any sense? From "taking my talents to South Beach" (is he going to Florida to party or to win a championship?), to calling a reporter's question "retarded" to belatedly apologizing for how he handled his "Decision" but then throwing his old teammates under the bus by saying that he "could not beat Boston by myself" (as if he were playing one on five or as if we are supposed to forget that he quit in game five versus Boston last season), James has repeatedly stuck his foot in his mouth. This does not invalidate his greatness as a player but it is just strange to watch/hear such nonsense after he spent the first part of his career seemingly hitting the right note every time he spoke publicly.

James appears to believe that star power alone wins in the NBA--he says that the success of the Celtics' star-studded team inspired him to join forces with Wade and Chris Bosh--but while star power is often important it is far from the only ingredient in a championship recipe; a championship team must be fully committed to defense and rebounding (contrast Chicago's multiple efforts in those categories with the lackadaisical performances offered in this year's postseason by nearly every Laker not named Kobe Bryant) and it must have players who can fill various roles in high pressure situations. James seems to think that he and Wade can take all of the shots, score all of the points and coast to a title. Their overpowering athleticism is indeed enough to win 50-plus games a season for the foreseeable future but only time will tell if it is also good enough to consistently beat elite teams in seven game playoff series.

Bosh is a versatile big man who can score in the post or hit the faceup jumper but James and Wade tend to take turns monopolizing the ball, relegating perennial All-Star Bosh into being little more than a Horace Grant-type power forward crashing the offensive boards from the weak side (Grant was a very good player but Bosh is a much more gifted and versatile scorer than Grant, even though the Heat only showcase Bosh's abilities on a sporadic basis). It is fascinating to observe the way that many members of the national media cover two similar stories in a vastly different way: whenever Pau Gasol's numbers go down, it is usually asserted that Kobe Bryant is selfishly shooting too much and not feeding Gasol the ball (Gasol played so meekly during this year's playoffs that the normally calm Coach Phil Jackson slapped Gasol in the chest to wake Gasol up, so even the biased media realized that Bryant could not be blamed this time for Gasol's declining numbers)--but, as I mentioned two months ago, Bosh and Coach Erik Spoelstra have been designated by the media as the scapegoats if the Heat do not win the NBA championship. Look at how many references there are to the Heat as "Two and a Half Men," as if Bosh somehow has been reduced not just from All-Star status but to something less than a full man. Bosh was a five-time All-Star and a 2007 All-NBA Second Team selection before he joined the Heat; he finished seventh in the 2007 MVP balloting. The assertion that he is not a legit, top 15 caliber player in the NBA is absurd but fits right in with the way that the media and "stat gurus" consistently denigrate the players surrounding James and Wade.

There has been a not so subtle shift in the media's narrative about the Heat; before this season began, we were told that James and Wade are arguably the two best players in the NBA and that they would prove to be an unstoppable duo that would lead the Heat to 70-plus wins and multiple championships. The Heat had a good but hardly dominant regular season, so now we are told that Bosh is some kind of liability and that the rest of the roster--which has been upgraded during the season with the addition of Mike Bibby, who had been the starting point guard for a playoff bound team in Atlanta--is useless. The excuses are already in place if the Heat lose and yet the groundwork has also been laid to coronate James and Wade if the Heat win the title (ESPN actually wasted part of a segment of a recent pregame show entertaining the notion that James and Wade may be a superior duo than Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, a conversation that is at least six years premature). Let's be perfectly clear: James is the best player in the NBA, Wade is a top six player (Rose moved past him this season), the Heat have enough talent to win a championship and if the Heat win a title that does not instantly make James and Wade into superheroes.

After the Bulls beat the Heat will the media have to transform Rose into a superhero to explain how such an "upset" could happen?

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:47 PM

21 comments

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21 Comments:

At Friday, May 13, 2011 8:39:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Series odds:
Chicago 0.295
Miami 0.705

Championship odds:
Chicago 0.184
Miami 0.572

It looks like we're going to be in disagreement on this series. I don't think Chicago has a very good chance to win this series, for reasons that have very little to do with basketball.

One of the dirty little secrets in the NBA is that teams do not play on a level playing field. The Bulls dynasty in the 90's and the Lakers dynasty from 2000-2010 were heavily fueled by "funny business" - as well as Miami's infamous championship in '06. Things got to bad that when Tim Donaghy was indicted for fixing games, the prevailing attitude among fans was, "Tell us something we don't already know".

NBA is a great form of entertainment, just like pro wrestling, Olympic figure skating, Formula One racing, and American Idol. And there is no doubt that the participants are talented and put on a show. But at the end of the day, all of these contests depend on factors other than the performance of the participants - things like politics, money, and other soap-opera elements. I expect the NBA playoffs to play out the same way.

Chicago may be the more complete team but there are very few teams that can overcome their opponent shooting 27 free throws in the 4th quarter of Game 6 or 21 free throws in the 4th quarter of Game 7. I wouldn't be surprised if some kind of funny business prevented the Bulls from winning the series.

If Chicago somehow pulls off the upset, I believe Stern will stick it to Mark Cuban a second time. Rose will get to run straight into defenders, throw up the ball wildly and shoot free throws, Dirk will get mugged every time he gets the ball with nary a foul call, and Bulls will get the benefit of the doubt on every close call. At the end of the day everyone will proclaim that Rose is the "next Jordan", Dirk will be called a "choker", and Mark Cuban will be labeled as a "whiner" and fined after he comments on the officiating.

In any case, I shouldn't complain since the Lakers got two of the biggest gift championships in NBA history. I am grateful, but I've since realized that the Kings were better in '02 and the Celtics in '10. I believe it's Miami's turn to be awarded the championship this season - as long as they show up to play the games, the good old boys should take care of the rest.

 
At Saturday, May 14, 2011 1:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

I think that your take on this series--and on the NBA playoffs in general--is past cynical and not particularly well founded. I don't think that the Lakers--or anyone else--received "gift" championships. The Mavs were up 2-0 and had a double digit lead in game three of the 2006 Finals. If they had executed better down the stretch then they would have had an insurmountable 3-0 lead.

 
At Saturday, May 14, 2011 12:34:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

Silly post, dan. Look, I wouldn't dismiss out of hand an argument that the '10 Celtics were better than the Lakers, but that would be based on their missing Perkins for Games 6 & 7. Stern didn't whack Perk's knee.

Btw, I don't agree with that argument, but it is at least closer to legit than conspiro-fantasy.

On this series, I fear the Bulls do not have enough offsensive creators beyond Rose and Wade/James will out-execute him down the stretch. I know the Bulls swept the regular-season series, but I am not optimistic they will have the same success over the course of a playoffs series.

 
At Saturday, May 14, 2011 9:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

The thing that I distrust about many conspiracy theories is that the theories can be spun to fit any outcome; for instance, one could say that the NBA "fixed" the Draft Lottery so that Cleveland would get hometown hero LeBron James--but if LeBron's draft rights had gone to New York one could say that the NBA "fixed" the Draft Lottery so that LeBron would end up in the biggest media market. Or, if the Lakers win it was because the NBA wanted a marquee franchise in the Finals but if the Kings had won then the story could be that the NBA wanted to promote an underdog. If a conspiracy can be woven to fit any possible outcome then there probably is not a conspiracy in the first place.

I agree with you that Chicago's biggest weakness is a lack of players who can create offense individually other than Rose but I think that Chicago's superior defensive focus and better, deeper set of bigs will offset that problem. I expect the games to be low scoring, half court grinds (assuming that the Bulls protect the ball and do not allow the Heat to feast on transition points).

 
At Sunday, May 15, 2011 4:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharp

I've never bothered to do much more than browse through DanielSong's posts, but this so far out there that I'm compelled to respond.

Almost any conference finals or NBA finals series that goes to 7 games usually indicates that he teams are evenly matched. That was definitely the case with Boston last year and Sacramento in 2002.

The 2010 Finals was decided by homecourt advantage, not by a leaguewide conspiracy. You can't even blame the officiating because the zebras did an overall poor job for BOTH teams. Boston was the beneficiary of several botched calls during close games, including the infamous play where Odom was called for knocking the ball out of bounds, even though replay clearly showed that this only occurred because Rondo hit him. In fairness, this wasn't really poor officiating, as they were simply tied down by a rule. Nonetheless, the fact that Boston also became the beneficiary of bad calls kind of flies in the face of your theory that the Lakers had the 2010 title gift wrapped for them.

Perkins being out for game 6 and 7 is a complete moot point, given the fact that the Lakers had a hobbled and mostly useless Andrew Bynum from an earlier point in the series. Boston had no answer for Bynum, and he had played a much larger part in the series than Perkins. Basically, I'm not sure which NBA Finals YOU watched last year, but while the one I saw might have been an ugly, slow affair, the "funny business," you speak of did not occur.

Sacramento should have won that 2002 series, but it wasn't just the refs that caused them to lose. The Kings repeatedly shot themselves in the foot throughout the series. People seem to have overblown one very poorly officiated game (number 6, to being an entire series where Sacramento somehow fought the Lakers and the referees to miraculously win 3 games. To be honest, I do actually believe that the referees were trying to change the outcome of game 6, because many of those calls were blatantly wrong. However, the Kings also blew a big lead in game 4 that could have put them up 3-1, and legitimately lost in game 7. They certainly have the right to be upset over what happened in the 4th quarter of game 6, but they failed to take advantage of other opportunities which would have made the outcome of that game irrelevant.

A lot of people say that Wade was gifted too many free throws during the course of the 2006 finals, which is true. But the reason the Mavs lost isn't because of officiating. In fact, it was because of a fundamental flaw with their team. To be quite blunt, they shoot TOO MANY DAMNED JUMP SHOTS. Wade got to the line because he drove to the hoop. Maybe if Dirk wasn't shooting 18 foot fadeaways and actually went to the rim in 06, he'd have gotten the benefit of some bad calls as well.

As for you throwing the same accusations out there against Jordan's Bulls, I'd say the fact that the 2010 finals was the first time in 13 trips that a Phil Jackson team went to 7 games in the finals clearly shows that Jordan's Bulls finished off their opponents quickly and decisively. The only one that I really think they could have lost was the one in 1998. There might have been some slippage towards the very end of their run, and Jordan was certainly the beneficiary of superstar calls just like any great player, but I never felt like the Bulls won a series on the backs of the officiating. Certainly not in the Finals.

 
At Sunday, May 15, 2011 6:59:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

Your description of the "media narrative" regarding the Heat is highly debatable. In reality, not everybody predicted a 70-win season for the Heat, and during the regular season a majority of the media focused on perceived Heat shortcomings: they could not finish in the clutch, they padded their win total beating weak teams but could not win against quality teams, they were throwing Spoelstra under the bus, Riley was coming back as coach any day now. In fact, there is already a narrative in place that beating the Celtics this season was no biggie as they did not look as unbeatable after the Perkins trade. Also, please note that Mike Bibby was traded by the Hawks and then released by the Wizards in a buy-out. I think that both sides of the question (his starting role with the Hawks, and his being released by the Wizards) should be considered when evaluating Bibby.

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 6:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JN:

You misunderstood what I wrote.

I made a clear distinction regarding the media narrative prior to the season--that James and Wade would lead the Heat to 70-plus wins this season and multiple titles in the next few years--and the way that the narrative has changed over the past few months; when it became clear that the Heat would not win 70-plus games, the media and the "stat gurus" did not revise their opinions about James and Wade but instead began bashing Spoelstra, Bosh and the Heat's bench.

My evaluation has been consistent and correct:

1) James is the best regular season player in the NBA but elite defensive teams can slow him down in the playoffs. He does not understand how to lead a team to a championship the way that Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan do.

2) Wade is a top five/six player (Rose passed him this year, relegating Wade to All-NBA Second Team status) but he is essentially a mini-LeBron; that is not a bad thing but it means that his skill set overlaps with LeBron's so that they do not always complement each other when they are on the court together (a marked contrast with MJ and Pip).

3) The Heat are a very talented team, a legit championship contender that has no excuse for not winning--but I don't think that they will win this year's championship. I am also skeptical that the James-Wade-Bosh trio will ever be as successful as many people seem to think that they will be, but I will address that on a season to season basis as various franchises tweak their rosters. Again, the Heat certainly seem to have a five year window in which they will annually contend for titles but that does not mean that they will win titles.

 
At Monday, May 16, 2011 8:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JN:

As for Bibby, he is still a very solid NBA player and he was good enough to start for a playoff bound Atlanta team; the Hawks simply decided to get a younger, more defensive-minded pg (Hinrich), while the Wizards already have a young pg in place and thus they saved salary cap space by trading Hinrich and releasing Bibby. The point is that back in July it seemed like most "stat gurus" and media members were sure that Miami had enough talent to dominate the NBA and that when this did not happen even after the Heat upgraded that talent (by adding Bibby) the media and "stat gurus" started looking for scapegoats (Bosh, Spoelstra).

The way that the Heat lost game one of this series--and the way that they likely will ultimately lose this series--highlights what I have been saying for years about Kobe, LeBron and Wade: Kobe has a complete skill set (including a midrange, longrange and postup game) that LeBron and Wade cannot match and this makes it easier for elite defensive teams to guard LeBron and Wade in the playoffs.

 
At Thursday, May 19, 2011 3:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

this is gon be long series lebron james came through like he did in game 4 and 5 of boston series. haslem was huge a split goin back to miami favor miami. but bulls is a tough team. funny how everyone buried miami after game one. its a complte team vs a three man team. there gettin nuthing out of bibby chalmers miller houe howard magloire. shows how good wade and bron and bosh are.

 
At Friday, May 20, 2011 3:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Before the season weren't you one of the people saying that LeBron and the Heat would win multiple championships? Now you are saying that this series is "a complete team versus a three man team." So which statement do you believe--that the Heat are poised to become a dynasty or that they are just a three man team?

I said that the Heat would win about 60 games and that they would lose to the first elite team that they faced in the playoffs. Before the season I thought that either Boston or Orlando would take the Heat out but the Magic completely blew their team up, while the Celtics traded Perkins and watched the rest of their frontcourt age in dog years. The Bulls are an elite defensive team, they will win at least one in Miami and they will eventually advance to the NBA Finals.

 
At Friday, May 20, 2011 11:22:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

The bulls play hard every game, not that other teams don't, but this is why it seems like they win. They're a blue collar team, they have to compete hard every night to win. Rose seems to be struggling throughout the playoffs. He's just too small. The bulls have to make some outside shots. I don't understand why Noah was left out of the 4th for so long in game 2. Sure, Asik did fine, but I just don't understand what Asik is giving out there is more than what Noah will bring, otherwise Asik would be starting.

This is a great year for the Heat because the other contenders aren't of the usual quality. Celtics and the lakers both had many more problems this year than years past, spurs had no superstars and their star players are aging quickly. The next teams in line are orlando, who knows what they're doing, bulls, new kids on the block, and the mavs, been good for awhile, but have yet to get it done, and I guess the thunder, still don't seem ready. These aren't your usual champ. teams

The heat really have no excuses for not winning this year and probably the next 3-4 years. They have 3 of the top 15 players in thel league, all in their primes. I am also continually amazed at how the media will blame anybody associated with the heat, other than james/wade. Of the remaining 4 teams, there's 7 star players, and the heat have 3, this is usually the blueprint for success. The bulls have to continually bring the defensive intensity and somehow find a way to get some easy baskets.

 
At Friday, May 20, 2011 4:31:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
What do you make of Derrick Rose telling ESPN magazine that 70% percent of the NBA is on steroids. And that there needs to be a level playing field?


I know Dwayne Wade has been accused by more than one person of using steroids.

 
At Friday, May 20, 2011 7:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

they gon win multiple titles this jus show how gud they are they got a gud chance to beat chicago wit jus three players that give them anything. the years down the road they will add more pieces so this might be the best time to get them since they have a very thin 4-10. so yea there gon be great team chicago has a bench. and great defensive team wit shot blockers and mvp of the league. and home court advantage. idk how anyone can say miami is any more than a three man team wen big 3 score 75 to 80 percent of they points nightly. i dont kno if chicago gon win in miami we will see i suppose. they might but bron nand wade are capable of winning a game 7 in the chi.

 
At Saturday, May 21, 2011 12:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

I hope that Rose is wrong about the percentage but if you compare how the players look today with how they looked even just 20 years ago it is very obvious that today's players are much bigger and much more cut. It would be naive to think that the NBA is PED-free when the NFL, MLB, track & field, cycling and so many other sports have been deeply affected by PED usage.

 
At Saturday, May 21, 2011 12:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Before the season you did not say much, if anything, about Miami's supporting cast. Since that time, the Heat added Mike Bibby, who had been starting for a playoff bound Atlanta team. James Jones won the three point shootout. The Heat have two of the NBA's top six players and three of the NBA's top 15-20 players, they were widely expected to win 70-plus games, you predicted that they would win multiple titles and yet now you are telling me that the roster isn't quite good enough. That seems contradictory. It is pointless to speculate about who Miami may acquire in subsequent seasons, because other teams will also make acquisitions, players will get hurt, etc. It is just funny how in the course of a few months the storyline has shifted from how LeBron and Wade were going to dominate the league for years to come to declaring that it is remarkable that they have done so well with such a thin roster.

 
At Saturday, May 21, 2011 8:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

cause it is remarkable i cant remeber any team. ive watched wit jus three players possibly win title have no bench or fourth guy.literally they score ninety percent of points wit bosh as well. bibby not gave them anything he started for atlanta but he play for miami now i cant remeber the last time he made a shot, he not been a relevant player for quite some time thats why atlanta cut him. thats why hinrich there and jeff teague who i never heard of. james jones best thing is he won a three point shootout ur feeding my point. he isnt hitting any shots other than game one agianst boston. thats why he fell deep on the bench for most of season for a team that has no bench.

lebron carried teams before so has wade so there capable. but u wouldnt think a team wit jus three players literally could win a title.

 
At Monday, May 23, 2011 2:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

Rose has now denied that he ever made the comment about PEDs that ESPN the Magazine attributed to him.

 
At Monday, May 23, 2011 2:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Before the season began, you said that Miami would win multiple titles (this may happen but I am not yet convinced). Now you are apparently shocked that the Heat reached the ECF with a roster that includes three perennial All-Stars in their primes, a luxury no NBA team has enjoyed for many years; Kobe won two rings with one-time All-Star Gasol (who became a perennial All-Star only after playing with Kobe) and the Celtics won one title with three past their prime All-Stars plus one young All-Star.

The only things that are remarkable about the Heat are how overhyped they were at the start of the season and how their players have a propensity for celebrating before doing anything of significance (i.e., the July coronation and the theatrics after beating Boston in the second round). It will be interesting to see if a team led by LeBron and two perennial All-Stars can even come close to matching what the Lakers just accomplished (three straight Finals appearances and two rings).

 
At Monday, May 23, 2011 2:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Before the season began, you said that Miami would win multiple titles (this may happen but I am not yet convinced). Now you are apparently shocked that the Heat reached the ECF with a roster that includes three perennial All-Stars in their primes, a luxury no NBA team has enjoyed for many years; Kobe won two rings with one-time All-Star Gasol (who became a perennial All-Star only after playing with Kobe) and the Celtics won one title with three past their prime All-Stars plus one young All-Star.

The only things that are remarkable about the Heat are how overhyped they were at the start of the season and how their players have a propensity for celebrating before doing anything of significance (i.e., the July coronation and the theatrics after beating Boston in the second round). It will be interesting to see if a team led by LeBron and two perennial All-Stars can even come close to matching what the Lakers just accomplished (three straight Finals appearances and two rings).

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2011 11:21:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Win or lose, the fact was that the Bulls were the more aggressive of the two teams in Games 4 and 5 and drove to the bucket more often.

Usually this does not result in 34-16 and 33-21 free throw disadvantages.

If you watch the game long enough, I guess you see everything.

 
At Friday, May 27, 2011 5:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

I realize that you are trying to justify your statement/prediction that the Heat would receive the benefit of a favorable whistle but if you watched the games objectively then you realized that the Bulls repeatedly went for pump fakes, got out of position and committed silly fouls. Were there some missed calls? Sure--but they went both ways.

In game four, the Bulls attempted 24 three pointers while the Heat only attempted 13 three pointers; in game five, the Bulls attempted 22 three pointers while the Heat only attempted 15 three pointers. Those numbers hardly support your contention that the Bulls "were the most aggressive."

The key to this series, as I mentioned in the first sentence of this preview article, was whether or not the Heat could force a lot of turnovers and then score in transition. I picked the Bulls to win because I thought that the Bulls would do a good job of protecting the ball and that the Heat would not be able to score efficiently against the Bulls in a half court set; I was right about the latter point but the Bulls had too many turnovers and they also had too many bad shots (including many of the aforementioned three pointers) that essentially were equivalent to turnovers because they led to transition scores for the Heat.

 

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