Thursday , Apr , 20 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Miami vs. Chicago

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Miami vs. Chicago *****
From The Sports Network

By Shawn Clarke, NBA analyst

Miami Heat: 2nd Seed, East (52-30)

Chicago Bulls: 7th Seed, East (41-41)

(Sports Network) – Miami is in the playoffs for the third straight year and
will try to get one step further this postseason.

Last year, the Heat reached the Eastern Conference finals and were ousted in
seven games by the Detroit Pistons. Health issues were a problem for the Heat,
as Shaquille O’Neal had a nagging leg injury and Dwyane Wade missed an
important Game 6 with a rib problem.

This year is certainly different for Miami, with president Pat Riley taking
over for head coach Stan Van Gundy, who stepped down from the post in
December. Van Gundy, who was in his third year at the helm, said he wanted to
spend more time with his family.

Van Gundy, who departed with an 11-10 mark, had two successful seasons as
head coach of the Heat, taking them deep into the playoffs each time. Miami
reached the second round of the 2004 playoffs before losing to Indiana,
then last spring swept New Jersey and Washington before falling in the
seventh game against Detroit in the conference finals.

The Heat had a record of 112-73 for Van Gundy, who was an assistant under
Riley before taking over as the franchise’s fifth head coach on October 24,
2003.

Since Riley headed back to the bench, his Heat have locked up the No .2 spot
in the Eastern Conference and are the favorite behind Detroit to win the East.

All the talk is about the Pistons and how teams didn’t want to match up with
Detroit. But the Chicago Bulls will have their hands full in the first round
as the seventh-seeded squad.

The Bulls, who are on a six-game win streak, captured the No. 7 spot on the
last day of the regular season in a tight race with Milwaukee and Indiana.
Chicago, though, will most likely be eliminated in the first round for the
second straight season.

Chicago collapsed in last year’s playoffs after mounting a 2-0 series lead on
the Washington Wizards.

The Bulls are a young squad, but so are the Heat. Chicago is led by Ben
Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Michael Sweetney, Luol Deng and Tyson Chandler. The
Bulls didn’t make any big moves this offseason besides dealing center Eddy
Curry to the Knicks.

Chicago’s young nucleus played like veterans down the stretch and catapulted
themselves into the postseason for the second time since the 1997-98 season.

In the season series between Miami and Chicago, the Heat won by a 2-1 count
and has been victorious in three of four and nine of the last 11 meetings.

In the last meeting of the 2005-06 season on April 6, the Bulls rallied from a
15-point deficit and notched their first victory at Miami since January 18,
2000, ending an 11-game road skid versus the Heat.

These two clubs have playoff history as well. Chicago swept the Heat in the
first round of the 1992 playoffs, then was swept in three games during the
opening round of the 1996 series.

The Bulls also beat the Heat in five games during the 1997 Eastern Conference
Finals.

FRONTCOURT: Miami’s frontcourt is spearheaded by big center Shaquille
O’Neal. O’Neal changes game plans for opposing teams and his presence in
the paint will surely be felt. O’Neal, who missed 23 games this season due
to injury, is in his second year with the Heat and the comradery built with
Dwyane Wade will carry this team deep into the postseason again.

O’Neal averaged 20 points a night and 9.2 rebounds. If O’Neal’s health is an
issue during the playoffs, his backup, Alonzo Mourning, will bring his veteran
leadership into this series.

A seasoned pro, Mourning played in 15 postseason games last season with two
starts, averaging 6.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and a team-leading 2.20 blocks per
contest.

Miami has another solid center in Michael Doleac. Doleac was used sparingly
this season and came off the bench in nine of the playoff games he appeared in
last season. Doleac will see the same amount of action this year, too.

The Heat frontcourt also consists of talented forwards Antoine Walker, Udonis
Haslem and James Posey. Walker and Posey were acquired in the offseason in a
five-team, 13-player trade in August.

Chicago’s frontcourt of Sweetney, Chandler, Deng, Andres Nocioni and
Othella Harrington will give Miami a tough test, but it won’t be enough to
advance to the semifinals.

The Bulls will do all they can inside to stop Shaq, but the size differential
will play a major role.

EDGE: HEAT

BACKCOURT: Dwyane Wade is one of the best point guards in the NBA and will
certainly lead Miami backcourt. There are not many players in the league as
talented as Wade, so the Heat have another advantage in that category.

Wade, who had the top-selling jersey in the league, will have the Bulls
puzzled with his ability to shoot, pass and defend. Wade is much like Magic
Johnson on the court by making things happen and getting the ball in his
teammates’ hands.

The Marquette product appeared in 14 playoff games last season, averaging 27.4
points, 6.6 assists and 5.7 rebounds. He missed a game during the Detroit
series and his absence might have cost the Heat a trip to the NBA Finals.

Dorell Wright, Derek Anderson, Gary Payton and Jason Williams highlight the
rest of the backcourt. Payton is the grandfather of the bunch, while Williams
joined the Heat via the five-team, 13-play deal that went down last summer. He
is currently nursing an injury.

Countering for the Bulls will be Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Malik Allen and
Chris Duhon. Gordon led the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game, while
Hinrich averaged 15.9 points per contest.

Gordon and Hinrich run the show and set up the offense for Chicago. But the
Heat win the backcourt advantage too for one reason — Wade.

EDGE: HEAT

COACH: Pat Riley is the James Dean of coaching in the NBA. His rugged good
looks and slicked-back hair make him the Hugh Hefner of the NBA. Riley
couldn’t stand watching the club from the box seats and took over as coach in
December.

Since Riley basically forced Stan Van Gundy out of town, the Heat have been on
cruise control and quickly adapted to the legendary coach’s scheme. Riley,
who enjoyed much success with the Lakers, may see himself back in the NBA
Finals with a new version of Magic and Kareem.

He will go against an inexperienced Scott Skiles. It’s not the days of old
when Riley’s Knicks used to battle Phil Jackson’s Bulls for 48 minutes. This
series will be much different.

Skiles was an NBA point guard so there will a lot of smaller lineups used for
the Bulls in the playoffs. Unless the speedy guards get into foul trouble,
Skiles will have to rely on his solid bench and younger hoopsters.

Last season, Skiles guided the Bulls to the postseason for the first time
since the 1997-98 championship season.

Skiles, who inked an extension in July through the 2008-09 season, will most
likely watch his team bow out in six games to Riley’s experienced Heat.

EDGE: HEAT

PREDICTION: Wade and Shaq. That’s all you need in this series.

HEAT IN SIX

CHI MIA