Analysis: Although Miami and Boston garnered much of the preseason hype, Chicago entered the season as dark horse Eastern Conference contenders thanks to offseason acquirements of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. Yet few would have projected prosperity for Tom Thibodeau's team after significant injuries to Boozer and rebounding wizard Joakim Noah. While Thibodeau's defensive dexterity and Luol Deng's dependability facilitated consistency, Derrick Rose was Chicago's stalwart in the absence of the Bulls' big men. Averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists, Rose's offensive imagination is often overlooked due to the team's imposing defense (91.3 points allowed). However, his creativity helped guide the team through a delicate assimilation period, integrating Boozer (17.5 points, 9.6 rebounds), who had missed training camp, and Noah (11.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks), who had yet to team with a formidable forward in his young career. Besides the fearsome foursome of Rose, Boozer, Noah and Deng, Chicago boasts a potent bench of Taj Gibson (7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds), sharpshooter Korver (8.3 points, 41.5 three-point percentage) and Ronnie Brewer (6.2 points, 1.3 steals). Thibodeau's reps as an assistant in Boston will alleviate any qualms concerning a lack of playoff experience amongst the roster, rendering the Bulls as challengers for the Eastern Conference crown.
Analysis: Miami's season didn't quite go to script, with the bench decimated by injuries to Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, leaving the Heat to acquire washed-up vets like Mike Bibby and Erick Dampier to augment their depth. The acclimation process was postponed due to a preseason hamstring issue to Dwyane Wade, equating to a 9-8 start. Rumors of disconnect between LeBron James and coach Erik Spoelstra leaked to the media, reports that James didn't necessarily refute. Losing five of six in January and six of seven in late February/early March heightened the hysteria of dysfunction of the supposed super team. Yet through all the trials and tribulations, the Heat finished the season second in the conference with a 58-24 mark. James turned in another MVP-worthy season with 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists, with Wade right behind with a line of 25.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.6 dimes. But as effective as James and Wade have been, Miami's title aspirations will come down to the play of the much-maligned third component of their infamous triad, Chris Bosh. The former Raptor contributed 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds this season, but will have to intensify his resistance against the rim if the Heat hope to be relevant in June.
Chances of Winning Conference Finals: Bulls 38.7% - Heat 28.1%