Czar’s Playoff Preview: Heat vs. Bulls Game 5

The Bulls turned up the heat in Game 4, but Miami made out with the 101-93 overtime win at home on Tuesday. The spoils of war add up to a commanding 3-1 lead for the Heatles in the Eastern Conference Finals. Once again, limiting King James to a mere mortal’s game proved a tough assignment. LeBron kicked it into gear and closed out Game 4 with a 35-point finish, his biggest of this series.

Chris Bosh contributed another solid 22-point performance. And the Heat got an extra dozen-point, nine-board boost from Mike Miller off the bench, as well as nine points from Mario Chalmers. Dwyane Wade still hasn’t broken out yet. The Bulls have done a great job containing him so far, but he’s like a sleeping giant who could bust out at any moment.

Whether or not Wade plays at the top of his game tonight, MVP Derrick Rose has to figure out how he’s going to attack Miami’s defense in Game 5 if he wants to keep his team in title contention. And Coach Tom Thibadeau must devise a plan to get him away from LeBron, who put a blanket on Rose for Chicago’s two most critical shots down the stretch in Game 4. Carlos Boozer needs another big game. And the bench has to contribute more to give Chicago the edge in tonight’s elimination match.

Miami knows that Dallas is ready and waiting to meet the winner of this grueling series. Every day that they allow it to go on gives Dallas that much more of an advantage in terms of preparation time and rest. Erik Spoelstra and his team are just one win away from manifesting their three-star master plan to compete for an NBA Title. But unlike last night’s contest in which the Mavericks’ execution and experience enabled them to seal the deal, I think Chicago has a good chance to capture the W and send this series back to Miami for Game 6. The Central Division Champion Chicago Bulls will host the Southeast Division Champion Miami Heat tonight in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at 8:30 PM ET on TNT.

Fratello Telestrator: Chris Bosh

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Gameday Dish: Lakers vs. Heat

The Los Angeles Lakers, 46-19, come to south Florida tonight riding an eight-game winning streak. The Miami Heat, 43-21, are on a season-worst five-game losing skid. Arguably, both squads lead their respective conferences in number of bright lights and legions of ‘opinionaires’ that follow them closely no matter where and when they play across the NBA league-scape. And tonight when they tip-off at the American Airlines Arena, the sum of these attention-circuses will be even greater than the parts themselves.

40-year-old Miami third-year head coach Erik Spoelstra took his Heat team into SoCal on Christmas Day and bested the Lakers at Staples 96-80. The Heat were led by two-time reigning league MVP LeBron James’ 27 points and 10 dimes. Eighth-year 6’11” PF Chris Bosh pulled down 13 boards in that holiday victory in front of Tinsel Town’s glitterati. Miami outscored LA in every quarter in that first of two meetings this 2010-2011 season.

These two combatants are eerily similar statistically at this point. Both sit in the 3-spot in their NBA conferences. The Lakers average 101.8 ppg and the Heat put up 101.5 ppg. LA has limited opponents to 95.2 ppg, while Miami has held their foes to 95.0 ppg. And both teams lead their divisions, going 9-3 against their Southeast and Pacific rivals respectively. Los Angeles also has its own ‘Big 3’ in Bryant-Gasol-Odom, whom coach Phil Jackson relies on for the crucial statistics of points, rebounds and assists only slightly less than Spoelstra depends on the production of the James-Wade-Bosh triumvirate.

However, the macro-view of this matchup reveals some major differences – most noticeably the Title differential. Future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant has five Championship rings, while LeBron James, in his eighth season, has no rings and only one Finals appearance in 2007, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept 4-love by San Antonio. The Lakers have been the last team standing in 16 NBA campaigns – the Miami Heat only once, in 2006. Phil Jackson has 13 Championship rings (2 as a player and a record-11 as a coach) and won his very first title as a player on the 1970 New York Knicks, six months before Erik Spoelstra was born.

Heat team President Pat Riley, a seven-time NBA Champ (1 as a player and 6 as a coach) and fellow 1967 NBA Draft class alum along with University of North Dakota’s Jackson, will surely be watching intently from his perch in the Triple-A tonight. Many paid and amateur observers of Dr. Naismith’s game have been speculating on the Heat’s recent tumble and whether the ‘bench-dynamic’ in Miami needs tweaking. No doubt LA will go after Miami like a lion pursuing a wounded prey. The big question is how will the Heat respond? The stage is set for a riveting drama to unfold live on TNT when the Miami Heat host the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at 7:00 PM ET.

Gameday Dish: Heat at Celtics Season Opener

The Heat and the Celtics have their eyes on the same prize: getting to and winning the NBA Finals in June. The Lakers will be showing off their newly acquired championship rings in a pregame ceremony at the Staples Center tonight and appear ready to threepeat for another title and more bling.

Rings, this game is all about championship rings: LeBron on the beach looking for that first ring; Shaq in Boston determined to get championship number five to keep up with his former teammate and now trophy rival Kobe Bryant.

The finals are a very long, arduous regular season away. But there’s the type of buzz surrounding the start of this season that we usually don’t encounter until playoff time. And tonight’s opener between the Celtics and Heat features two teams at the center of the drama as the Celtics’ Big Three Pierce, Garnett and Allen prepare to do battle with Miami’s newly formed triumvirate of James, Wade and Bosh for Eastern Conference supremacy

Tonight’s matchup will put into motion the many exciting subplots set to play out this season. Will D-Wade occupy seat 1 or seat 2? Will Rajon Rondo make the proverbial jump to superstar? How will Kendrick Perkins’ injured knee and his mid-season return to the starting lineup affect the Celts? Will Miami’s supporting cast surrounding the stars step up and deliver? Will Coach Doc Rivers be happy with his big decision to come back to the Boston bench after the heartbreaking Game 7 loss in last year’s Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. And how will second-year head coach Erik Spoelstra lead his new awesome threesome?

Did I mention LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade and the Heat?

The biggest star in professional basketball (professional sports?) leaves his almost-hometown team (the Akron Cavs?) via a prime-time television special and relocates to flashy, splashy Miami to join forces with D-Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Boss, aka team president Pat Riley.

Some prognosticators have been throwing around the Michael Jordan-led 1995-96 Champion Chicago Bulls and their 72-10 all-time best regular season mark as a measuring stick for this Miami team. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman … James, Wade and Bosh – different eras, different players for sure, but similar expectations in many fans’ and even experts’ minds.

Anything less than a dominating start of the season in the wins column will be viewed as a letdown for this newer than new Miami Heat squad.  Expectations of success are higher than maybe any team has shouldered since those mid-to-late 90’s Bulls teams that won three titles back-to-back-to-back.

The Celtics on the other hand, having won the crown in 2008 with what was then considered a veteran team, are statistically the oldest team in the NBA and may be forgiven for some regular season stretches of sub-par play due to wear and tear.

However, Boston fans could taste franchise-record title 18 until the final, final moments of Finals’ Game 7 last year and are hungry for another championship banner to add to the Celtics’ collection in the rafters of the TD Garden.

The quest for the coveted 2011 NBA Championship ring starts tonight. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and I have Miami Heat at Boston Celtics at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.

Czar’s 2010-11 Season Preview: Miami Heat

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