Make sure you check out my appearance on TheBasketballJones. I kindof got pumped up while doing it...a lot of the same talk that was a part of yesterday's post.
To look over the strengths and weaknesses that each team displayed this season, the following is from the wonderfulKnickerblogger.net stat page. I couldn't get it nicely in a spreadsheet so I just mashed together some screencaps:
I forgot to throw up a celebratory post when it was official, but yes, the Bulls were the #1 defensive team in the league. I said before the season that while critics assumed that getting 'more' defense with Ben Wallace wasn't a priority, I thought it could take them from top-5 to the very top, and that happened. Since last season they've improved especially in causing turnovers while maintaining their stifling field-goal defense.
You can also notice that a lot of the same problems offensively that existed last season still remain, too many turnovers and not getting to the line enough. The Heat have actually done worse at getting to the line as a team this season, but I consider that a statistic we can throw out in the playoffs. Early foul trouble will be a constant issue on both sides, with the Bulls guards and Shaq in particular. In a single game it may come down to some breaks here-or-there (watch for Posey the flop machine against Luol), but overall in the series I hope that the team that earns the fouls gets the calls. And since we know Wade will be playing to get calls (and I mean that as a strategy, not superstar-decreed gifts from refs), I'd like to see Gordon and Hinrich draw some fouls of their own. It's not all the referees that determine free-throw differential, the Bulls guards can't be content with lobbing threes over the defense.
Foul-drawing ability makes me even more worried in a close game, as the Heat are going to give Wade the ball and the Bulls will have to be disciplined enough not to foul. I really think this is where Ben Wallace will make a huge difference over Tyson Chandler. Ben is smart enough (and gets enough of the officials respect) that he won't be baited into such situations as the secondary defender, and hopefully the Bulls as a whole can follow that lead.
It's in that slowed-down late-game environment where the Bulls can get in trouble. As with the defense they will need discipline on offense in those situations. Late scores will take some individual excellence from Ben Gordon (and maybe mixes up with a post-up from Deng?), but it'd be nice if the other 4 guys didn't just stand and watch.
Guarding Shaq it won't be much easier than last season, but we should all feel safer with Wallace and Brown than we did with Tyson Chandler, Othella Harrington, Luke Schencsher, and the like. I'd imagine Skiles will start Brown on Shaq and keep Wallace on Haslem for weak-side help. I'd almost rather let Shaq get going early than have him fouled to eventually cause Skiles to dig deeper in his bench than he'd want. And speaking of the bench, when the first frontcourt sub is coming in, I hope it's Tyrus Thomas. Noc may spread the floor when he's playing power forward, but the lack of rebounding will kill them. I'd prefer Noc comes in spot minutes if two of Hinrich/Deng/Gordon are on the bench, to provide someone looking for a shot where the Bulls other bench players couldn't. And for the love of god, no tiny-ball lineups. Duhon is just not good enough to where it becomes an overall advantage considering the size that Miami's backcourt would use at the other end.
But what I think is most important is that the Bulls speed up the game. Not just through fast breaks, but even in a half-court set. As the younger and quicker team they can dribble past the top of the defense, slash to the basket without the ball, and chase offensive rebounds faster than the Heat can. That gets guys open, gets extra possessions, and causes a trailing defender to foul. It's not just energy or hustle, it's athleticism, and the Bulls have that edge. Especially if they play Thomas, who can be starry-eyed in his first playoff series but still rebound better than any any Bull outside of Ben Wallace when he's out there. But as I said yesterday, it all starts with Hinrich, Deng and Gordon. If they're aggressive on offense and disciplined on defense, a big lead will come quick and the Heat will be forced to abandon their slowed-down superstar-driven offense, as it'll be too late.
There will be a game where the Bulls completely romp, there will be one where Wade breaks our hearts. But I really think that over the course of this series the Bulls will overwhelm the Heat, force Dwyane Wade into contact he wants to avoid, and neutralize the Heat's Riley-ball with several examples of young and hungry talent that simply can run and move faster than the defending champs.