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Bulls have enough to dethrone LeBron, Heat

Updated: November 26, 2013 6:48AM



Can the Bulls beat the Heat?

That’s pretty much the only question, isn’t it?

No, I don’t mean in the season opener Tuesday in Miami, with the Heat players and staff getting their 2012-13 NBA championship rings. Nor do I mean the games on Dec. 5, Feb. 23 or March 9.

It would be nice to win all those, but the only games that count are in the playoffs.

Anyone disagree?

This is all based on the premise — pretty solid, I think — that the LeBron James-led Heat, the two-time defending champs who finished second in 2011, is the best team in the NBA.

So how do the Bulls match up? We could start by saying nobody on the planet matches up with James. At 6-8, 260 pounds, with a point guard’s handle and speed, the man is, as Chris Paul has stated, “a freak of nature.’’ Plus, he intends to play more in the post, having worked over the summer on big-man moves.

So you just do what you can against this near super-human. But the Bulls have a smaller time bomb on their side. A rehabbed fellow named Derrick Rose.

It took us a year and a half to get him back from that ACL injury, and if you have watched him in the Bulls’ preseason games, he looks different from anyone on the floor, attacking the rim with frightening, athletic, utterly reckless abandon. Against the Pistons, he made a shot in which he was sideways, almost parallel to the floor.

Plus, his three-point shot is improved, and he seems to have a high-jumping standard three-point motion and a near-set-shot type of motion. You can do a lot when you play by yourself for months.

The Heat has future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade riding as James’ sidekick, and possible Hall of Famer Chris Bosh next to him. Fill it out with Udonis Haslem at a forward spot and Mario Chalmers at point guard — with Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Chris Andersen and Shane Battier off the bench — and, yes, this is a dynamo team.

But the Bulls can counter with the one-of-a-kind Rose, rugged center Joakim Noah, versatile small forward Luol Deng, spirited shooting guard Jimmy Butler and the ungainly yet effective mechanical man Carlos Boozer at power forward. The Bulls are a great rebounding team — many of the boards coming from Boozer — and the Heat is not.

Moreover, the Bulls have a good bench themselves, with forward/center Taj Gibson, guard Kirk Hinrich, center Nazr Mohammed and tall outside shooter Mike Dunleavy Jr.

So what does it come down to?

Little things. The Bulls coming together as a team after Rose’s long absence. Healthy players. Dear God, we can’t emphasize that enough. After all, Hinrich is already out with a concussion and a shoulder injury, and Noah has a groin injury that likely will keep him out of the opener.

Then there’s the coaching.

The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra has settled in as a calming, expert-teaching muse, when once upon a time he seemed like an amateur hanging on to LeBron’s cape. And the Bulls have basketball-obsessed, intense-beyond-sanity gym rat Tom Thibodeau leading the way, a defensive-minded madman who will push his players to the breaking point. And yet, they love him for it.

But Thibs has to ratchet back. Cut stars’ minutes. Winning now means nothing. It’s the playoffs that count, remember? Rose cannot be a wilted bloom by May. The players must have legs left. And mental energy.

Recently, Saints star tight end and former college basketball player Jimmy Graham was asked how James would fare in the NFL. Graham said James might struggle until he figured things out, but then he would be the best receiver in the league.

That’s the Heat’s heart and soul. Only three teams have pulled off a three-peat in the NBA. The Heat could be the fourth.

But the Bulls have enough to derail history. Man for man, they match up with the Heat, even if no one equals LeBron. But five can always beat one.

The Bulls have watched the Heat long enough. They have lost to the Heat in the playoffs. They have seen enough to know their clock is ticking, that their team could be blown up next offseason.

There’s only one bull’s-eye out there.

The Bulls — these Bulls — can nail it.



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