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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 9:03 PM

With the Chicago Bulls visiting the Miami Heat Thursday Night in a potential Eastern Conference championship preview, it’s time to seriously consider whether or not the team can go the distance this summer and lift the O’Brien trophy.

Yes, they’re going to be a #1 seed. And, yes, they were a final four team last year But, there are still lingering doubts about whether or not this team is truly championship material.

Among those:

*Do they match up well with Miami in a best-of-seven? The Heat were dominant in last year’s meeting because they had multiple scoring threats while Chicago only seemed to have one. If Miami focused its defense on Derrick Rose, nobody else could be counted on to score points for the Bulls. Has that changed?

*Does Chicago have the postseason experience it takes to thrive under the most intense of pressure? It’s true that Dallas didn’t have a lot of championship-type experience when they won last year. But, they had some veterans who knew they may never get another chance. Dirk Nowitzki had a fantastic finals. Jason Kidd provided leadership every step of the way. Rose is much younger than Kidd. There’s nobody on Chicago that will provide veteran crunch time scoring in the manner that Nowitzki did.

*Did Chicago’s path to the title get much tougher when Boston started playing well? It’s been assumed by many for much of the year that Chicago and Miami would draw virtual byes into the Eastern finals. Sure, they’d have a few games where they were tested. But, an entire series? It was going to be 4-1 or 4-2 as they advanced. Now, rejuvenated Boston is looming as a possible second round opponent. The Celtics will be a tough out, and could put up such a fight that the Bulls are drained in the Eastern finals.

*Will Derrick Rose be able to stay healthy through the playoffs? He keeps breaking down this year, and he wasn’t at 100% last year because of an ankle injury. You probably heard him complaining about hard fouls a few days ago. He hasn’t seen anything yet! The playoffs are physically, and Rose constantly runs into contact. Chicago has been winning games without Rose. Can they win a lot of PLAYOFF games without Rose hitting on all cylinders.

We’ve been studying the Bulls very closely in recent days because we know they’re going to be a major story in the postseason. Here’s our take on why they SHOULD be taken seriously as a championship threat.

*First, and most obviously, DEFENSE AND REBOUNDING WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS! That’s a mantra we’ve been forcing on you for years and years. That’s because it’s true. Yes, you need scoring too. But, you have to stop people to have any chance at all. Dallas was better defensively last year than many realized, with Tyson Chandler anchoring the middle. Miami won the East with great defense. Defense never slumps. Chicago has a championship caliber defense.

*Secondly, the addition of Rip Hamilton adds some much needed scoring. The Bulls were really just one more threat away from winning the East last year. Rose doesn’t have to carry as big a burden this year. Defenses have to focus on more than one scorer.

*Thirdly, the Bulls role players understand they HAVE to add scoring as well. Part of the learning process last year was seeing that they didn’t have quite enough. It’s a truism in sports that you usually have to go pretty far and lose before you can go all the way and win a title. Chicago learned a lot last year. That’s going to show up in the areas of ball movement and scoring, particularly late in close games. One reason Chicago has done so well when Rose was out this year is that they’ve found ways to score besides hoping Rose would draw fouls while trying to score at the rim.  

*Let’s also note that Chicago may have suffered bad luck in the brackets with Boston, but surely received good luck when the race for the eighth seed became a battle between collapsing Philadelphia and very weak Milwaukee. The Bulls may have a softer first round than Miami based on the current seedings. They may have the easier two-round path to the Eastern finals even if Boston represents “the best of the rest.” Indiana isn’t going to lay down for Miami. The Heat may draw the Knicks in the first round, representing very bad timing from the Miami perspective.

Even though Rose may be able to lead his team to victory while playing a slightly less demanding role this year…we still believe that his health is the key to winning the East, and the league. If he’s not near full strength, it’s tough to pick Chicago over Miami and the survivor in the West. But, if he IS near full strength, particularly in those later rounds, then Chicago is a legitimate favorite over Miami in our view (based on what we’ve seen of Miami lately), and would certainly be a near coin flip vs. the Western representative.

We’re very interested to see how the Bulls approach this Thursday meeting on TNT. Are they just going to coast into the playoffs because the #1 seed is so close to being secure (nice to know that you’re season finale is at home against Cleveland when you’re measuring you margin for error). Rose and Luol Deng didn’t suit up in Charlotte Wednesday Night. Will the meeting with Miami just be at three-quarter speed? Or, will Chicago send a message Thursday that they hope will be remembered in a few weeks time?

JIM HURLEY may or may not be stepping out in this game depending on what he hears from his on-site sources. He knows you love winning TV games…and he knows the TNT marquee doubleheader is a top priority for you. But, he’s only going to post a game if clear value exists.

You can purchase NETWORK’S full Thursday slate right here at the website with your credit card. Also under consideration in the NBA are the LA Clippers at Phoenix and Milwaukee at Indiana. Don’t forget that Thursday’s baseball schedule has split sessions, which allows for great money management potential.


Early Thursday MLB Highlights:

LA Dodgers at Milwaukee

Cincinnati at St. Louis


Late Thursday MLB Highlights:

Texas at Detroit (start #3 for Yu Darvish)

Minnesota at the NY Yankees

Tampa Bay at Toronto

Atlanta at Arizona

Smart bettors try to win early, then let those winnings ride in later action.

If you have any questions about our service, particularly about creating combination packages with basketball, baseball, and Triple Crown horse racing, call our handicapping office at 1-800-323-4453. You need to get your ducks in a row now because what’s already a busy schedule is about to get even crazier!

Back Friday to preview the first Yankees-Red Sox series of the new season. That’s going to be a showcase series all over the networks this week (MLB Network on Friday, FOX on Saturday, and ESPN on Sunday Night). We’ll review what’s happened so far with both teams, and outline their race with Tampa Bay in the AL East. We’re still finalizing our Saturday discussion. Sunday will likely be a preview of Oklahoma City-LA Lakers on ABC. Kobe Bryant is scheduled to be back in action. And, the Thunder may be having nightmares about the city of Los Angeles after their two recent losses to the Clippers!

Make sure you’re with us in the NOTEBOOK every day so you know what’s really happening in the world of sports. And, link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK at very affordable prices for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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