Chicago-Miami series for East title starts Sunday
Dwyane Wade is going home this weekend. Derrick Rose will be waiting for him.
Get ready for a star-studded Eastern Conference finals.
It will be No. 1 Chicago against No. 2 Miami for a spot in the NBA finals, their best-of-seven to decide the East crown set to start Sunday night. Chicago clinched its spot Thursday by beating the Atlanta Hawks 93-73, winning that series in six games. Miami punched its ticket Wednesday, ending on a 16-0 run to beat Boston 97-87 and advance in five games.
''It's going to be fun,'' Rose said Thursday night in Atlanta. ''It's going to be definitely fun. They are a great team. They're playing well together as a team and I think we're playing good together. So it's going to be a battle.''
Chicago won all three matchups during the regular season, none by more than four points. Including the playoffs, Chicago has the NBA's best home record this season - 41-6. Miami is the league's second-best road team, 30-15 away from home this season.
And as is almost always the case for a series this late in the playoffs, there will be plenty of intrigue.
Wade is from Chicago, and the Bulls met with him twice last summer with hopes of wooing him into wearing the uniform of the team he grew up idolizing. The Bulls also had visions during that July 2010 free-agent bonanza of signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh, both of whom wound up with Wade in Miami.
Nonetheless, Heat President Pat Riley - the mastermind of last summer's haul - wound up sharing NBA executive of the year honors with Chicago general manager Gar Forman.
''He and the entire Bulls organization are most deserving,'' Riley said.
Then there's the individual matchups, Rose and James in particular.
They will rarely guard one another in the East finals, but this series will be touted as a showdown of MVPs. James won the award in 2009 and 2010, but Rose picked up the trophy this season. James was the only unanimous selection to the All-NBA team that was revealed Thursday, with Rose appearing on 118 of the 119 ballots.
''Looking forward to it,'' Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said.
Plus, there's the pursuit of history.
The Bulls haven't gone this far in the playoffs since 1998, Michael Jordan's final championship season in Chicago. James is still chasing his first title, and although the Heat celebrated wildly after ousting Boston, he quickly offered a reminder Wednesday that Miami knows it still has plenty of challenges remaining.
''We have a lot of work to do,'' James said.
The regular-season series had more than a few notable moments.
Bosh was hurt with 30.7 seconds left in the third quarter of a Jan. 15 loss in Chicago, going for the ball while the Bulls' Omer Asik dove for it awkwardly. Asik rolled into Bosh's lower leg, a play that knocked the Heat forward out for two weeks with a high left ankle sprain.
The teams met again Feb. 24, also in Chicago, a 93-89 Bulls victory where Bosh shot an abysmal 1 for 18.
Chicago finished the season sweep in Miami on March 6, prevailing 87-86 after James and Wade misfired in the final seconds with a chance to win.
Rose and Wade both averaged 29 points in the Bulls-Heat series. James averaged 27.5 points, missing the January game with an ankle sprain.