MIAMI LeBron James will take some turns guarding Derrick Rose in the Eastern Conference finals. So will Dwyane Wade, Mike Bibby, Mario Chalmers and even Chris Bosh in some moments, too.
None of them expects to stop him.
Keeping Rose in check, however, is the top priority for the Miami Heat and likely is a prerequisite for beating the Chicago Bulls and reaching the NBA finals.
Game 1 of the East title series is Sunday night in Chicago, the city Rose has led into its first NBA final four since Michael Jordan took them there 13 years ago.
Were not a team to concede anything, said James, discussing how to defend the guard who ended his two-year reign as the NBAs MVP this season. Thats not our nature. We dont play basketball like that. We have too many guys that have too much pride to allow a guy individually to just go off.
Like Ive said, hes going to get his. Their team is going to play well. But were up for the challenge.
It may be their biggest challenge yet.
Rose has taken 29 percent of Chicagos shots in the playoffs, his 256 attempts being almost as many as the total shots for the Bulls second and third options Luol Deng (154) and Carlos Boozer (119) in the postseason. Hes not always a shoot-first guard, though, proven by his 90 assists in the playoffs more than any other three Chicago players combined.
Sometimes hes going to slither in there and make some incredible plays, Bosh said. Its going to happen.
Much like James and Wade, Rose is truly a pick-your-poison opponent for teams.
Play him straight up, run the risk of getting beat 1-on-1. Overplay him, and he makes you pay with the sharp pass.
Hes a phenomenal player, Wade said. Hes figured out how to be great in this league fast. We know hes going to score. Hes going to do amazing things. Its our job just to make sure that we make it tough on him as possible. Hes the MVP for a reason.
In turn, the Heat have been one of the NBAs top defensive teams for a reason.
Even on Saturday, a few hours before boarding their charter flight to Chicago, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had his team wearing mouthguards and pads for practice. On the eve of Game 1, the Heat were hitting each other, then had their perimeter players huddled around a massive television screen to study more video most of it almost certainly featuring Rose.
Hes a challenge, no question about it, because he puts so much overwhelming pressure in the paint, on your bigs, on your guards, gets players in foul trouble, Spoelstra said. We have an aggressive defense. We dont want to back off on that, even with our ultimate respect for him as a playmaker and as an MVP.
Among teams in this years postseason, only four of the 16 are holding opponents under 90 points. The Bulls (87.7) and Heat (88.8) are two of them.
Either team getting to 90 points in this series might be a cause for celebration.
I think theyve been an excellent team all year long, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. And now theyve been together, theyve played with each other, theyve been through more situations, so I think theyre more comfortable with each other. But theyve been a well-balanced team from the start of the season right up until their playoff series with Boston. They played great in the Boston series. They played great in the Philly series. So we know theyre a talented team.
A confident one, too.
True, the Bulls are the NBAs overall No. 1 seed and have the leagues best home mark, 41-6 including the playoffs as well. But when Chicago topped Atlanta on Thursday night to clinch that East semifinal series in six games, Rose quickly said he didnt mind the Bulls would be the underdogs in the East finals against Miami.
The Heats reaction? Ha.
By saying that, hes taking a little pressure off his teammates, James said. I understand what hes saying. By saying theyre underdogs, takes a lot of pressure off their teammates. Theres a No. 1 seed for a reason. Were coming in with our mindset to play well, underdog, lead dog, whatever the case may be. Two great teams going against one another.
Getting past Boston in the East semifinals was a major breakthrough for the Heat, given that James playoff runs with Cleveland in 2008 and 2010 were ended by the Celtics and that Miami had struggled against Boston for the last four years.
Chicago is a thorny opponent as well, both for the Heat 0-3 against the Bulls this year and Wade, who is just 18-18 as a pro against his hometown team.
To the Heat, it seems fitting their playoff road has stops in both Boston and Chicago, where the MVP awaits.
We wouldnt take it any other way, Bosh said.