Without Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Brooklyn Nets on the road Saturday 99-93 to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs. The battered Bulls won't have much time to savor its Game 7 win, though, as the team will face the well-rested Miami Heat Monday at 7 p.m. for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.
Miami wrapped up its first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks last Sunday, enjoying a full week of rest before playing again. Although some fans believe that teams can come out rusty after long layoffs, the Heat's quick disposal of the Bucks enabled Dwyane Wade -- the team's second-best player -- to fully recover from the knee injury that held him out of the last game of the first-round series. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP returned to full practice activity May 3, but Erik Spoelstra said that he won't know Wade's status for Game 1 until Monday.
The Chicago Bulls face much more significant injury concerns than Miami does, of course. Deng did not travel with the team to South Florida, so Chicago won't have an extra defender to throw at 4-time MVP LeBron James. Jimmy Butler, who played all 48 minutes in Game 7 Saturday night, will face the unenviable task of defending James. With such a depleted roster, the Chicago players will employ everything in their arsenals to stop James -- including some hard fouls. After the Bulls snapped Miami's 27-game winning streak March 28, James questioned some fouls he sustained.
This Bulls team won't back down, even with an inferior roster and injuries. Miami will need to limit Chicago's offensive rebounding opportunities -- which means LeBron James will have to play big as the nominal power forward -- and utilize its disciplined, creative offense to overcome Chicago's stingy defense. This series will be infinitely more entertaining than a Heat/Nets series would have been if only because of the excitement it will inevitably stir. The Bulls will compete with Miami, but the Heat should win this series in five games. Chicago's injuries simply leave the team with too little firepower to turn a series against a team with James, Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen in doubt.
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