2011 NBA Playoffs: Bulls v. Heat Preview

The Chicago Bulls will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Well, this is the matchup everyone has been waiting for. These, in my opinion, are the keys for the Bulls to win this round of the playoffs.

Lineup Changes

In Game 6, against the Atlanta Hawks, Coach Thibs changed his fourth quarter lineup. Us Bulls fans were waiting for a lineup change. Stat geeks (like me) were scratching our heads at the perplexity of leaving Kyle Korver in a close game for the hope he gets a good screen and a good look to hit an open jumper. However, Kyle is a liability when he is not shooting the ball well. I felt Coach Thibs system of implementing a defensive scheme, while leaving Korver in a close game, was -- er, contradictory.

But finally, Thibs went with the lineup of Rose-Brewer-Gibson-Deng-Asik "The Sheik" in the fourth quarter.

This lineup ranks 7th in minutes played but it has one of the higher success rates (68.5%); second behind the lineup of Rose-Brewer-Deng-Gibson-Thomas. Some would argue sample size (minutes played), which is a fair argument. But there is something to this lineup. The Rose-Brewer-Gibson-Deng-Asik lineup keeps the opponents effective field goal percentage (eFGA) to 28% and reduces opponent shooting from close range (dClose) to 26%, this unit also has a +5 turnover advantage (forcing more turnovers than committing). Personally, I would like to see more Gibson and Asik. Nick Friedell wrote:

Gibson’s strong play down the stretch only reinforces the fact that the Bulls have one of the best benches in the league. A key that most teams aren't able to lean upon this late in the postseason.
I hope Coach Thibs continues to put efficient lineups on the floor. Luckily, he has plenty to choose from against Miami.

The Reliable Sidekick

Luol Deng has been absolutely SOLID in these playoffs. Jalen Rose actually thinks he's the X-factor in this series. Clearly, Jalen read my recap of Game 1 against Indiana:
The silent assassin's true shooting percentage of 61% was higher than his season total (55%). He had an ORating of 131 and a DRating of 117. Meh. His productivity accounted for 10% of the Bulls win. I said before the playoffs that as Luol Deng (and the Bench Mob) goes, as go the Bulls.
The Silent Assassin has a true shooting percentage of 52%, ORating of 117 a DRating of 102, and a win share of 1.7. Me Likey. Luol's numbers might not be as good this series though -- he is guarding Lebron James. But maybe this is the series that shows us the Luol Deng we've all been waiting for since we drafted him out of Duke. Luol Deng needs to be the Robin to Derrick's Batman.


According to some advanced statistics on a previous post I had, Lebron James should have won MVP. I base this assumption on win shares. I received death threats and SEAL Team 6 raided my neighbors. It seems people do not like seeing hard number statistics that quantify wins. Lebron did contribute more to his team in terms of wins (15.6) than Derrick did (13.1).

But there's a caveat to Derrick Rose's MVP season -- Derrick's "clutch" ability.

(for those of you that argue "Derrick carries the team on his back" or "Derrick takes over games", this point is for you)

Since "clutchness" means different things to different people, let's stick with how the NBA Stats Cube defines it:
Player performance in the last 5 minutes of games when the score margin is within 5 points.
I would like to add that just because a player gets the ball at the end of games, does NOT make him clutch. Rather, the ability to not only score, but play defense, rebound, and find open teammates. It's the small details in those final moments that determine a win or loss. In statistics, sports, life and business, "the devil is in the details".

Net Rating is the team point differential per 100 possessions between Offensive Rating (team points scored per 100 possessions) and Defensive Rating (team points allowed per 100 possessions). Here's Derrick's Net Rating (regular playing time v. clutch time):

Using Net Rating, we see the "clutchness" of Derrick Rose (click here to view more of Derrick's clutch numbers). It's tough to ignore this level of play when the game is on the line. Perhaps this is why Derrick won MVP. Regardless, his "clutch" play will need to be at this high level, consistently, for the Bulls to get past the Heat.

My Pick

This is going to be a tough matchup for the Bulls. The Heat are playing at an extremely high level right now. And this is not the same Heat team we saw during the season.

The margin of error for the Bulls is essentially -- zero.

We cannot afford:
  • A bad shooting night (combined with bad defense) from the awfully good-looking Kyle Korver

  • Carlos Boozer being a shell of his normal self

  • The disappearance of Keith Bogans (btw- the Bulls are 32-2 when Keith Bogans score 6+ points)

  • Defensive gaps

  • Being outcoached by Erik Spoelstra (I just vomited in my mouth)

  • Having the combo of Wade-James-Bosh score 80+ points consistently

At this point, excellence must be demanded from every man on the Bulls roster (even you, Brian Scalabrine). If the Bulls play at this excellence, they'll win in 6 games.

If not, they'll be out in 5...maybe 4.

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  1. Stat geeks all season have wondered why Korver didn't get more PT. Look at the O-rating of lineups with Korver and his adjusted plus/minus.

  2. It's nice to have bench players we're looking for good games from. It seems so many teams have a whole bench they cannot bear to watch.