Even Miami Could Be Vulnerable To Eastern Conference-itis


VIDEO: Chicago rolls to an easy home win against the Miami Heat

CHICAGO – Miami’s Shane Battier was offering what for a lot of NBA analysts would qualify as a “Eureka!” moment in assessing the disparity between the Eastern and Western Conferences.

In an age when anything simple can be dissected into something way more complicated, Battier’s theory initially sounded more insipid than inspired.

Never mind that he likely was right.

“More good players in the West?” the Heat forward said, rhetorically solving in six words what so far has been the great puzzle of 2013-14.

“[Longtime NBA coach-turned-broadcaster] Hubie Brown starts every clinic by saying, ‘This is the most important lesson in coaching: If you do not have good players, you will not win,’ ” Battier said, with a laugh. “You could come with the most fantastic scheme, you could have the best togetherness and ‘rah-rah’ but if you don’t have good players, you’re not going to win. I think there’s more talent in the West right now.”

And Miami and Indiana have more talent than the East’s 13 other members at the moment, explaining their 31-7 combined records and 8-1 combined mark against West foes (compared to their neighbors’ 18-62 mark).

Except the Heat didn’t have more good players Thursday night, not in their late game against the Bulls at United Center. Dwyane Wade was back at the hotel with flu-like symptoms and Chris Andersen wasn’t even in Chicago (personal reasons).

As a handicapping, it might not have been on par with the Bulls’ — no Derrick Rose, no Jimmy Butler — but it was enough for Chicago to win by 20, especially given the home court and the Bulls’ tendency to see everything Heat as a big red cape, motivation-wise.

As Joakim Noah said after his revved-up, 17-point, 15-rebound awakening, “The people in the city, there’s something when Miami comes to town. You wake up in the morning you feel it, the people in the city they don’t like the Miami Heat. We don’t like the Miami Heat. It always feels good to beat them.”


VIDEO: Carlos Boozer talks after helping the Bulls topple the Heat

There were three takeaways from Chicago’s 43-of-48-minutes mastery of the opponents it particularly loathes:

1. December ain’t May.

Since Miami’s Big Three era commenced in July 2010, the Bulls are 6-1 against the Heat in regular-season games at United Center. They are, more significantly, 2-8 against the Heat in Chicago and in Miami in the postseason.

And the truth is, given Rose’s absence again and the shifting – more like concentration – of power within the conference, the game Thursday meant far more to Chicago. If the two-time defending champions are going to peak for anyone on their four-game trip through the frigid Midwest, it’s going to be Indiana, not Chicago. The Bulls have been supplanted by their Central Division rivals as Miami’s top threat. Heck, a trip into sub-zero Minnesota to face an improved Timberwolves team might have Heat players quaking (or is that shivering?) more these days than a Rose-less Bulls squad.

2. The Bulls needed this.

The funk into which Chicago players fell, from the moment Rose’s right knee buckled in Portland after that long ordeal triggered by his left, was a deep, dark one. They’d been churning to re-adjust to Rose’s return but now they were throwing off losses — in overtime to lowly Utah, narrowly at Cleveland, at home against New Orleans in a triple-overtime drainer Monday — at an alarming rate.

Just having Rose around Thursday in the trainers room during and after shootaround, prior to his news conference to talk about his repaired right meniscus and second lost season, helped with the Bulls’ moods. Seeing Miami — a vulnerable Miami at that — helped even more.

“Lot of battles, lot of scars, lot of tough losses,” Noah said of his south Florida pals. “Lot of seasons ending because of them. Our team needed it.”

Noah needed it more than most. None of the Bulls’ emotions mean more to the team than their (mostly) high-energy center’s and he wasn’t especially enthusiastic about slogging forward without Rose again, this time lacking even the “carrot” that the point guard might be back by spring. LeBron & Co. – maybe the Miami jerseys alone – were his smelling salts.

3. Miami and Indiana could be the West. Then again, they could be the Bulls.

Which is to say, the Heat and the Pacers have more good players than their intra-conference rivals. But one, two or more of their good players could come up lame at any moment over the next five months, at which point they’re brought back to the motley pack. It’s that kind of season, it’s that kind of league.

Everyone saw what nearly happened to Miami in the 2012 playoffs when Chris Bosh went down with an abdominal strain in the conference semifinals against Indiana and only got healthy in the nick of time against Boston one round later. Or what happened to Oklahoma City last spring when Russell Westbrook tore a meniscus of his own in the first round against Houston. Or what the Heat has experienced this season with Wade’s ongoing knee soreness.

No team in the NBA is more than one significant injury away from its own personal Eastern Conference-itis. And that ought to keep most of them playing hard and focused.

Even the Bulls, without a one-time MVP, might find themselves with just as many good players as the next guy in some postseason series. That’s when motley maybe becomes manageable and the improbable starts to look possible.


VIDEO: Go inside the huddles during Thursday’s Heat-Bulls matchup

25 Comments

  1. Brent says:

    Everyone is acting like it’s super unfair that the East weak.

    Umm. Get over it?

    Seriously what is the NBA supposed to do? Take players from the stacked West and move them to other teams? It’s not the league’s fault that so many teams in the East are inept. In the 80s the East was stacked and the West had the Lakers and Hakeem.

    It happens, teams get better and worse, bad trades happen, draft picks go bust, injuries, personal differences, etc. there are so many variables. There is absolutely no reason to alter the playoff system for a season. You play the teams you have to play to get to the Finals. That’s how it should be.

  2. levin23 says:

    I feel like Battier’s explanation is weak. It’s the NBA. You have to be good to get in. Sure there are a handful of players that come in superstar good, but most of them work to get there. Paul George wasn’t considered that good at the beginning, neither was russell westbrook, rajon rondo, kevin love, wesley matthews, nicholas batum, serge ibaka, nikola pekovic, chandler parsons or a bunch of other players. You gotta work to get good. Even as a team. Great talent isn’t the number one ingredient to win in the NBA. Every team has talent. It’s how you use it. Look at 2011 championship mavs not that much talent. my Lakers of last year plenty of talent and.. well I don’t want to go there. The knicks have been a seriously underperforming team for a while. Last year the Bulls beat the Nets by just playing harder (and also by Nate Robinson explosions). The east has talent: The Nets just have injuries, and the pistons and wizards are finally bringing it togeter and gelling. Look at ATL’s frontcourt!

  3. Shawn Kemp No. 1 says:

    ^^^ Lol Freida no one thought Miami would beat the Spurs? are you on drugs? they were HEAVY favorites

    they’re just doing their usual “i dont feel like playing hard tonight” in the regular season… when they are focused they are very tough to beat and they can mop the floor with teams like the Bulls…

    i really hope the Pacers destroy them this year, but until then, Heat are still favorites for the title unless the regular season losses REALLY begin to pile up, but i can’t see that

  4. tapk8 says:

    sorry but this is probably pacers year … I like the Heat but i just dont see them as champions this year , everyone will root against them and the Pacers still have Granger with 0 games played , thats crazy .

  5. to karinav23 says:

    Are you stupid ? 2 championships in a row and this guy asks what is the hype about :DDD
    where some of you come from. On top of that heat did not play well at the start of the season, all 3 years before.

  6. Boom says:

    “They are, more significantly, 2-8 against the Heat in Chicago and in Miami in the postseason.”

    This, my friends, is all that matters. Have fun in the regular season and see ya in the Playoffs.

  7. nellynel says:

    yo stop it wade didn’t play with wade they are not losibg

  8. - says:

    Once again, the Heat lost two in a row and everybody is doubting about them. C’mon, Detroit and Chicago exposed Heat’s weakness, the interior defense, but do you really think Miami will have the same issues in the post season? I can guarantee the Pacers may sweep the Heat in regular season but In the ECF it will another close series.

  9. Miami Heat Fan says:

    You can beat Miami Heat once, but 4 in best of seven games. i don’t think so…let just wait till playoffs and maybe it will be a rematch between Miami heat vs Indiana pacers.

  10. Maybe but says:

    East is a joke…
    Any team can beat the Heat…

    Still won the last two playoffs though ^^

  11. Freida says:

    Any team can beat Miami? You don’t know what you are talking about. Let’s make a judgment in April 2014. No one thought Miami was going to beat OKC 2012 and nobody thought Miami would beat the Spurs. BUT They Did! As a team!
    And almost doesn’t count.

    • Pakyaw says:

      Of course anybody can beat the heat..but the question is , is anybody can beat the heat in a 7 game series?.. No team went to 82-0..

    • levin23 says:

      I agree that almost doesn’t count for the Charlotte game, but the Spurs had it! I don’t know why Leonard was in the game at the end of game six to be fouled and miss a free throw to allow Ray Allen to get the second chance three. SO PAINFUL! No offense to Kawhi, who could’ve been a possible finals mvp. Also too much trust in Ginobli who was obviously struggling to turn it on in Game 6 and 7.

  12. Hash says:

    Keep saying that until RR comes back for the Celts. Its going to be a different ball game then

  13. karinav23 says:

    any team can be miami i agree i do not know what the hype is about miami i hope they get beaten in the ecf

    • TITO from Texas says:

      No not any team, Teams have built their rosters only to beat the heat, but unfortunately its backfiring on Net/knicks. They have more to lose than the heat. Miami has already accomplished what they wanted, bulls, Pacers,nets, are still in the hunt. Miami has the talent but people dont see the behind the scenes as in Coaching, Miami has other than the spurs the best coaching staff in the league. So its not the players its the coaching that makes the adjustments, Thats the main reason how Miami was abel to prevail and accomplish what they set out for.. As a Heat fan I only ask that we lock the 1 or 2nd spot nothing more, then we move on from there, cause we can compete with the rest of the league. Other teams are catching up Pacers and Heat are ahead inthe game others are outside looking in. So look at all the factors when you talk about Miami how as a “Team” they did what no one wanted them todo, it wasnt about lebron, Coaching played a bigger factor then just having a superstar, Reference the Nets and Knicks , they are still trying to find themselves in the East.

  14. ImJusSayin says:

    So let me get this straight? The top (I’ll Be nice) 4 teams in the east get to stomp all over their EC teams, run a cakewalk gambit through the first round of the playoffs, then be rewarded with home court for the finals. I guess this makes sense!

  15. laker says:

    East is a joke…cancel season and have pacers vs heat for eastern conference championship

  16. Any team can beat miami…even charlotte…they almost beaten them!