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LeBron James-Dwyane Wade combo gives Heat edge over Bulls

LeBrJames left Dwyane Wade Miami Hewalk their locker room prior Game 1 Eastern Conference Finals United Center Sunday May 15

LeBron James, left, and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat walk to their locker room prior to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the United Center Sunday, May 15, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 27, 2011 12:33AM

Let’s lock the X’s and O’s geeks in the basement before the Eastern Conference finals turn into a seminar about the evolution of the dive cut.

This series isn’t going to come down to strategy. This isn’t a chess match. If it is, the Bulls are in huge trouble because the Miami Heat has two all-powerful queens. Maybe I should drop the chess metaphor right now.

The Bulls have to slow LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who can move anywhere they want on the board, and no amount of film study by coach Tom Thibodeau and his bloodshot eyes is going to solve that.

The only thing that will slow the pair down is hard work, which has been the hallmark of these Bulls all season. Luol Deng and Keith Bogans wear basketball jerseys, but they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves. There is no secret plan, no magic potion, no revelation expected to arrive before Game 1 today. Everybody knows what everybody else is going to do.

This is going to come down to whether Deng can limit James and whether Bogans can limit Wade, with help on both fronts from an array of similarly energized teammates.

It’s going to come down to effort and — sorry, Bulls fans — luck.

It’s going to come down to whether James can make the outside jumper the way he did against the Boston Celtics. If he can, the Bulls will be in a world of trouble in this series. If he can’t, the Bulls will have a chance.

Turning it up when it counts

I know, ‘‘having a chance’’ isn’t the concept that comes to mind in most discussions about a No. 1 seed. But the Bulls’ top seed should come with an asterisk. That asterisk would say something like, ‘‘Yes, but the Heat started playing its best basketball in the playoffs.’’

It’s so very easy to dislike the Heat. Two superstars and whatever Chris Bosh is supposed to be engineered a merger in Miami. James’ prime-time ‘‘The Decision’’ and his ‘‘taking my talents’’ announcement set off a nationwide outbreak of gagging.

We took some glee in the Heat’s early struggles. Actually, if we had taken any more glee in them, we would have massed outside the White House for some spontaneous partying. But the way James and Wade are playing right now is exactly why they got together and exactly why LeBron talked about multiple NBA titles right from the start.

The Bulls have Derrick Rose, the NBA’s most valuable player, and more depth. The Heat has two future Hall of Famers in their prime. The Bulls have the enigmatic Carlos Boozer, and the Heat has the enigmatic Bosh.

As for the strategy geeks who want to think the Bulls have a decided advantage because of Thibodeau, that’s fine. But remember that the Indiana Pacers’ Frank Vogel held his own against the coach of the year in the first-round series.

No, this is going to come down to players — as it always does, as it always has, as it always will.

All season, Thibodeau demanded that his players work hard. All season, they listened. The latter is what separated the Bulls from most other teams (OK, that and Rose), and it’s a credit to their first-year head coach.

The Heat is playing its hardest and best now, and if the purist in you is horrified that teams sometimes pace themselves during the regular season, well, too bad. The Bulls found out in their first two playoff series that opponents raise their games when it counts. That’s exactly what the Heat has done.

Boozer must come up big

To have a chance against the Heat, the Bulls have to play the way they did Thursday, when they made the Atlanta Hawks work like pack mules for every shot. They need Boozer to play the way he did Thursday, when he scored 23 points. It’s hard to picture that happening, given what we saw from him in the first two series, but you never know. At a minimum, he needs to take those 15-foot jumpers and forget about posting up.

The Bulls know what they’re going to get from Rose, who has played like an MVP in the playoffs, too. He’s going to drive hard to the basket a lot, and the Heat is going to hit him hard. What happens after that might decide this series. How many calls will he get?

Somewhere in the Bulls’ minds, they have to be wondering whether there’s a chance James will revert to the playoff disappointment he was last season. And maybe the Heat is wondering the same thing in some far corner of its brain. All it knows is what it saw on TV last season, just like the rest of us.

But James didn’t have Wade before. That’s a ton of talent
tipping the scales. Beyond that, they share a responsibility toward making ‘‘The Decision’’ look like the correct one. As good as the Bulls have been this season and as far as they’ve come, it’s hard to get past all of that.

Heat in seven.

But bloodied.

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