Preview: Can Bulls hand Miami first postseason loss?
LeBron James was named Most Valuable Player on Sunday and the Miami Heat get back to playing basketball on Monday when they open the Eastern Conference semifinals against the visiting Chicago Bulls.
Miami hasn't played since finishing a four-game, first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks on April 28. Chicago completed its seven-game series win over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.
The Bulls will likely be without forward Luol Deng (illness) while point guard Kirk Hinrich is a game-time decision.
Chicago used a gritty Game 7 effort against Brooklyn to reach the conference semifinals with center Joakim Noah leading the way with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocked shots.
The Bulls are thriving without guard Derrick Rose, who mysteriously continues to sit out with a knee injury nearly two months after he was medically cleared to play.
James had a superb campaign in winning his fourth MVP award. The Miami forward averaged 26.8 points, eight rebounds and 7.3 assists while helping the Heat to a league-best 66-16 mark. The only other players to win four or more MVPs are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four).
TV: 6 p.m., TNT
ABOUT THE BULLS: Deng missed the final two games of the Brooklyn series after a spinal tap caused serious complications. The spinal tap was performed to see if Deng had contracted meningitis - results were negative - but the procedure caused severe headaches and other issues that required Deng to be hospitalized. His return date remains uncertain. Hinrich (calf) missed the final three games of the series against the Nets and Nate Robinson will again be in the starting lineup if Hinrich can't play. Guard Marco Belinelli will have a solid role in the series after scoring 24 points in the Game 7 victory and 22 points the previous outing.
ABOUT THE HEAT: James and his teammates are well-rested after the extended break - one that should help guard Dwyane Wade's balky right knee. Wade recently returned to practice and is expected to be in the starting lineup for the opener. Wade told reporters on Sunday he's more concerned about his level of conditioning than the knee. "When you go out for a while, your wind is the first thing to go and your legs get heavy," Wade said. "So it's just about getting them under you early on and just getting into the game." The Heat won all four games of the Milwaukee series by double digits.
1. The teams split four regular-season meetings, including a Chicago victory on March 27 that ended Miami's 27-game winning streak.
2. The two teams met in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals with Miami winning the series in five games.
3. Chicago is 7-23 all-time when playing a postseason Game 1 on the road.
PREDICTION: Heat 104, Bulls 86.
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