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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 10:48 PM

For the first time in the new season, the two teams most likely to face each other in the Eastern Conference Championships will square off when the Chicago Bulls visit the Miami Heat in a game nationally televised Sunday on ABC.

Barring injuries, it’s hard to imagine anyone besides these two squaring off for the Eastern crown in a few months. Most of the other contenders seem to be pretenders in terms of championship caliber play.

*Philadelphia has impressed whenever they face the worst teams in the league. They just kill them! But, the Sixers are break even when playing anyone above the patsy class. You don’t get to face Washington or Charlotte in the playoffs, so it’s hard to see the Sixers taking out either the Bulls or the Heat.

*Indiana is one of those gutty teams that can take you deep in a series. Do they have the maturity on the floor or on the sidelines to win a best-of-seven against a true league power? We don’t see it.

*Boston looks to be too old to win a title these days, and there are rumors that Danny Ainge is going to start making trades so he can build for the future.

*New York? All the buzz from the Carmelo Anthony trade has worn off as the city quickly realized that ball hogs don’t win championships.

*Atlanta is one of those teams that always seems good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to do anything once they’re there unless they draw Orlando.

*Orlando seems to be falling apart before our very eyes this week…with Dwight Howard looking to get out of Dodge and the rest of the team realizing they have no chance to matter without him.

Miami and Chicago are so good that you could see the Heat reaching the Eastern finals even if LeBron James or Dwyane Wade are on the shelf. Chicago’s defense is so intense that they might even be able to weather the loss of Derrick Rose.

A few NBA games this year have had a playoff feel to them. Sunday’s Bulls-Heat game on ABC may be the first that has a real championship feel to it.

Let’s crunch some numbers so you know what to look for when you’re watching.


Chicago 2nd in the NBA

Miami 8th in the NBA

Chicago only trails Philadelphia in this stat…and Philadelphia only leads the NBA because they’ve played a very soft schedule and they know how to dominate the truly bad teams. Chicago has the best defense in the NBA…which puts them on the short list for overall championship hopefuls. Miami is also very good…though they may slack off a bit this year because the team is trying to push tempo on offense. Running on offense tends to wear out your own defense…so they may live to regret that decision even if they get a bunch of highlight reel dunks.

For you newcomers, “defensive efficiency” is points allowed per possession. Just taking raw scoring averages isn’t enough because tempo can pollute those numbers. Efficiency is scoring adjusted for tempo.


Miami 2nd

Chicago 3rd

Many of you may be surprised that Chicago rates so well offensively. They were seen last year as a team that defended great, but had trouble in the halfcourt offense unless Rose was going off. This year, they’ve done a better job of getting everyone involved. And, it must be said, they’ve also caught some breaks in the schedule in terms of facing the worst teams. In our view, Miami owns a slightly bigger edge on offense than those rankings would suggest. That being said…both teams are effective on both sides of the ball…and that’s why they’re head and shoulders above the Eastern field.


Chicago 1st

Miami 8th

Defense and rebounding wins championships…which gives Chicago a great chance to sneak past Miami this year and represent the East in the league finals. Note that rebound rate is the percentage of available rebounds that are grabbed rather than just raw totals. Once again, you have to adjust for context and opportunity when studying basketball stats. TV announcers are still about 30 years behind in that regard. Top handicappers aren’t!


Chicago 3rd

Miami 24th

This shows the value of having a great point guard! Rose protect the ball, and gets it where it needs to be. Miami does a horrible job of protecting the ball…and often sees James or Wade penetrate into trouble where they get stripped of the ball or throw a bad pass. Now, we’ve seen in recent years that it IS possible to win in the playoffs with a poor turnover ranking. Boston did it in their best years. This doesn’t disqualify Miami…but it does give you some perspective on the extra hurdles they have to deal with.


Miami 3rd

Chicago 25th

Probably the biggest difference between these teams is in style of play. Miami has made a commitment this year to run as much as they can so they can get dunks and open looks for their star shooters. Chicago prefers to set up a halfcourt offense and attack the basket slowly. Whoever controls the tempo is probably going to cover Sunday’s game…and ultimately win a heads-up matchup in the playoffs. Miami must get fast break points to counteract Chicago’s great halfcourt defense.

To summarize…

CHICAGO: a classic grinder, but with true excellence in all the elements of grinding. They have a great defense. They own the boards. And, they have a point guard who maximizes their potential out of the halfcourt.

MIAMI: fast and a little sloppy, but very strong in the areas of defense and rebounding as well. Sharp play will make them the champions. An inability to get cheap points killed them in crunch time of the Dallas games last year, and could ultimately be their downfall again this Spring.

JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK has studied this game very closely knowing that clients love watching themselves win big money on TV. Check our “buy picks” page Sunday morning to see if it qualified as part of the Sunday slate. We’re also looking at San Antonio-Dallas, Indiana-Orlando, Lakers-Minnesota, and Clippers-Denver from a very exciting Sunday NBA schedule. In the colleges, Michigan-Ohio State, Notre Dame-Connecticut, and Stanford-California are on the short list for big play possibilities.

You can always purchase game day selections here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call our office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about the Super Bowl when you call. It’s easy to add our Super Sunday extravaganza to any basketball package you sign up for.

Back with you Monday to run the numbers from the big weekend games, and to talk about Pittsburgh-West Virginia and Missouri-Texas on Big Monday on ESPN. We hope you enjoyed last week’s series on the mid-majors. We’ll be back to focusing on big TV games and the major conferences this week. Among the marquee matchups coming up soon.

Monday: The Big Monday twinbill we just mentioned, plus OKC at the LA Clippers.

Tuesday: Michigan State at Illinois and Vanderbilt at Arkansas.

Wednesday: Indiana at Michigan and Connecticut at Georgetown in the colleges, plus Chicago-Philadelphia, and OKC at Dallas in the NBA.

Thursday: Duke at Virginia Tech and Gonzaga at BYU in the colleges, plus New York-Chicago and Denver-LA Clippers in the NBA.

Friday: New York at Boston, Miami at Philadelphia, and Lakers at Denver in the NBA.

Saturday: Ohio State at Wisconsin, Vanderbilt at Florida, Arizona at Stanford, Indiana at Purdue, and Kansas Missouri in the colleges, and a monster 13-game NBA ticket in the pro’s!

Be sure you’re with us every day in the NOTEBOOK for stat analysis…and every day at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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