2011 NBA Playoffs: Can Bulls Really Beat LeBron, Heat?

| by David Berri

I grew up in Detroit, and that means I am not a big fan of Chicago sports.  And I am especially not fond of the Chicago Bulls, the team the Pistons tormented in the late 1980s (only to have the favor returned in the 1990s).

But my participation in the TrueHoop Smackdown is forcing me to re-think my preferences.  Currently I am in 4th place in the contest, just four points off the leader.

So far I have missed on three series (Atlanta over Orlando, Memphis over San Antonio, and Dallas over LA Lakers).  But in this contest, everyone missed on these series.  So a failure to identify the winner in each series hasn’t held me back.  What has held me back is a failure to correctly identify the length of each series (only did it once).

At this point there are only three series left to call.  And since most of us are picking the same winners every time, it seems unlikely that I can make up ground just picking who everyone else is picking.  So that means I have to do something different.  In other words, I have to start rooting for the Bulls.

As noted, I don’t like this pick.  If the Bulls win we have to keep hearing about…

  • …the amazing Derrick Rose.  Yes he is good, just not as good as people are saying.
  • …. LeBron’s move to Miami, which many people in the media hated.  I was not one of these people.  After all, people do get to choose their employer in this country.  And the failure of the Cavaliers to win with LeBron wasn’t really his fault.  Teams win titles.  Individual players do not win titles.

Plus, I would have guessed Miami would win the title before the season started.

Defending My Choice

But I don’t think I can win this contest picking the Heat.  Therefore, let me defend my choice of the Bulls.

The model I have used in the past has looked at regular season efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) and home court advantage.  Efficiency differential for each team appears as follows:

Heat Efficiency Differential: 7.96

Bulls Efficiency Differential: 7.81

Miami has a slight advantage in differential.  The Bulls home court advantage, though, suggests that Chicago will win in seven games (my pick is Bulls in seven games).

Here is even more support for Chicago.  An issue I raised after the first round was that we should not just look at regular season efficiency differential, but also the specific players who are playing in the post-season.

The following table reports how many wins each team could have expected in the regular season given the allocation of minutes in the post-season (and performance in the regular season).

As one can see, the Wins Produced numbers also favor the Bulls.  The problem for the Heat is that Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem are really not available (and both are more productive than the non-Supermen who are playing).

Utah Jazz East

So I guess I am stuck with the Bulls.  Let me close with an additional defense of this pick.  The Bulls really are a combination of the 2009-10 Bulls and the 2009-10 Utah Jazz.  These two teams finished last season as the 8th seed in the East and the 5th seed in the West.  This past summer, while the world was focused on assembly of the Supermen in Miami, Chicago went about merging some of best talent from the Bulls and Jazz.  From the Utah Jazz the Bulls took Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer.   This trio was added to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Taj Gibson.  These seven players produced 52.4 wins in 2010-11, or about 85% of the team’s total wins.

As a resident of Utah, maybe I should be rooting for the team that is really the Utah Jazz East.  In fact, that is how I am going to think about the Bulls.  When I see Chicago Red, I am going to imagine Utah navy and yellow.  In other words, I am going to pretend that I am not really rooting for Chicago.

- DJ