- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2011

A look at the matchup in the Eastern Conference finals, which begin Sunday (with regular season and playoff records):

No. 1 CHICAGO BULLS (62-20, 8-3) vs. No. 2 MIAMI HEAT (58-24, 8-2).

Season Series: Bulls, 3-0. Chicago’s three wins came by a combined eight points and the heartbreak eventually became too much for the Heat to take, with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra’s revelation that there were “a couple guys crying in the locker room” following the Bulls‘ 87-86 victory in Miami on March 26. LeBron James averaged 27.5 points and 9.0 rebounds and shot 56 percent but missed one game with injury, while Dwyane Wade scored 29 points per game against his hometown team. Derrick Rose also scored 29 per game.

Story line: The Bulls hoped to land some combination of James, Wade and Chris Bosh last summer, watched the three instead join up in Miami, and ended up with the best record in the NBA anyway. The series matches the past three MVPs in Rose, who ended James‘ run of consecutive awards, and Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau will have to devise his best defensive schemes if the Bulls are to slow down the red-hot James and Wade.

Key Matchup I: Carlos Boozer vs. Bosh. The former Olympic teammates are two of the most maligned of last summer’s high-profile signings, but bring some momentum into this matchup. Bosh, who had a 1-for-18 night in a Feb. 24 loss at Chicago, had double-doubles in the final two games against Boston, making key baskets down the stretch in each. Boozer has been battling a turf toe injury that’s slowed him during the postseason but comes off his best game of the playoffs, getting 23 points and 10 rebounds in the Game 6 clincher against Atlanta.

Key Matchup II: Luol Deng vs. James. Nobody is stopping James if he plays the way he did in the final two games against the Celtics, when he averaged 34 points and shot 7 of 13 on 3-pointers. But he can’t forget about Deng, who scored 16.7 per game against Miami this season and provided the go-ahead points in each of the last two meetings.

X-factor: James Jones. The Heat will have to hit from the outside so the Bulls can’t focus too much attention on keeping Wade and James from driving into the lane. Jones, who scored 25 points in the opener against Boston and hit a 3-pointer that ignited the late comeback in Game 6, is the best candidate.

Prediction: Heat in 6.

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