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updated: 5/6/2013 5:48 AM

Beating Heat will be a Herculean task

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  • The playoff road only gets rockier for Joakim Noah and the Bulls when they begin the Eastern Conference semifinals today against defending NBA champion Miami.

      The playoff road only gets rockier for Joakim Noah and the Bulls when they begin the Eastern Conference semifinals today against defending NBA champion Miami.
    Associated Press

 
 

A few weeks ago, the storyline to this Bulls season seemed to be, "They're not going to beat Miami anyway, so Derrick Rose shouldn't bother playing."

Now that they pulled off a short-handed first-round win over Brooklyn and will face the Heat, many Bulls fans seem outraged that Rose is not playing.

Maybe he will play, but he probably won't. The one-year anniversary of his ACL surgery is approaching on May 12 and they said a 9-12 month rehab, right?

Anyway, the Bulls headed straight from New York to South Florida, took Sunday off and will tip off the second round against Miami on Monday at American Airlines Arena.

After sweeping Milwaukee in the first round, the Heat has had a full week to rest and recuperate, helpful since Dwyane Wade sat out Game 4 with a sore right knee. Will the Heat be rusty? That's a realistic possibility, but the Bulls' health remains a significant issue.

Here's a rundown of some key points to this series, the seventh all-time between these teams:

Deliver some defense:

On paper, this Bulls team is built to compete with the Heat. They have three players in Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng who can do a decent job of guarding LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Deng, obviously, focuses on James, Hinrich on Wade, while Butler can switch between the two.

The Bulls don't have any illusions of shutting down James, who will hoist his fourth MVP trophy before Monday's contest. But they have forced Wade into plenty of poor performances over the years and might hope to take advantage of James' general reluctance to do it all himself.

Can the Bulls pull off a solid defensive effort if Hinrich and Deng are out? Their status for Game 1 figures to be more doubtful than questionable, since Hinrich is still struggling with a calf injury and Deng just spent multiple days in the hospital with an illness.

Pound the boards:

Miami's hole in the middle is no myth. The Heat ranked dead last in the NBA in rebounds per game during the regular season.

The Bulls were the last team to win at Miami with both James and Wade on the floor. It was way back on Jan. 4, but the Bulls provided something of a blueprint in how to beat the Heat by piling up a 19-4 advantage in offensive rebounds and a 20-7 edge in second-chance points.

Since then, Miami signed Chris "Birdman" Andersen, who has helped quite a bit. But Erik Spoelstra seems reluctant to play him more than 15 minutes per game.

Guard the arc:

There wasn't much question that the difference in the Heat winning the championship last year after falling short in 2011 was the supporting cast.

Shane Battier couldn't miss from 3-point range during last year's playoffs and Miami added Ray Allen this season to provide another 3-point threat.

Those were the first two guys mentioned by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after Game 7 in Brooklyn. He coached Allen in Boston and Battier in Houston. Allen hit 13 of 28 attempts from 3-point range in the sweep of Milwaukee, while Battier was off-target (4-for-18). Mike Miller can sometimes be a factor, but Norris Cole is getting more playing time.

So here's a simple checklist of what the Bulls need to do to stay close against Miami:

•Don't just win the rebound battle, dominate on the boards.

•Take care of the ball. Turnovers and bad shots become instant points for Miami.

•Make sure Carlos Boozer stays involved in the offense. If he can have a big series against Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans, he should be able to keep it up against Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh.

•Stick to the main principle of Thibodeau defense: Force teams to take long, contested twos. The Bulls have proven they can guard Wade (he was terrible in the 2011 conference finals). The next step is to try to keep James away from the basket without leaving the 3-point shooters wide open.

•Try to get to the line. The Bulls have no chance of matching Miami's free-throw total, considering the Heat stars complain to the referees every moment of the game and beyond. But be aggressive and maybe the Bulls can keep it close.

Don't think for a second that Thibodeau doesn't have 2010 on his mind. In his last year as a Boston assistant, the Celtics were the No. 4 seed in the East, knocked off James' Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round and got all the way to Game 7 of the Finals -- with Nate Robinson on the team.

The Bulls may not win this series, but they will relish the chance to make the road to the Finals a little more painful for the Power Trio. Miami is well aware, so the Bulls probably won't catch their opponent overconfident or half-asleep, like in the first round.

Prediction: Miami in six games.

• Follow Mike's Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls and check out his All Bull blog at dailyherald.com.

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