x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Blooming Rose looks forward to facing Heat

The NBA Eastern Conference play-off finals will match up the No-2 seeded Miami against the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.

MIAMI // Dwyane Wade is going home tonight.

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 tonight.

Chicago clinched their spot on Thursday by beating the Atlanta Hawks 93-73, winning that series in six games.

Miami punched their ticket on Wednesday, ending on a 16-0 run to defeat Boston 97-87 and advance in five games.

"It's going to be fun," Rose said. "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 match-ups during the regular season, but none by more than four points.

Including the play-offs, Chicago have the NBA's best-home record this season, 41-6. Miami, however, are the league's second-best team on the road, at 30-15, this season.

As is nearly always the case this late in the play-offs, the series carries 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 idolising.

The Bulls also had visions during that July 2010 free-agent bonanza of signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Both, however, landed in Miami with Wade, who chose to stay in Florida.

Nonetheless, Pat Riley, president of the Heat and the mastermind of last summer's free-agent haul, wound up sharing NBA Executive of the Year honours with the Chicago general manager Gar Forman.

"He and the entire Bulls organisation are most deserving," Riley said.

The individual match-ups are compelling, Rose and James in particular. They likely will rarely guard one another in the series, but this series shapes up 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 on Thursday, with Rose appearing on 118 of the 119 ballots.

The pursuit of history is on the agenda, too. The Bulls have won six championships, but none since 1998, Michael Jordan's final season in Chicago.

James is still chasing his first title, and although the Heat celebrated wildly after ousting Boston, he quickly offered a reminder that he and his teammates know they have plenty of challenges remaining.

"We have a lot of work to do," he said.

Rose and Wade each averaged 29 points in the Bulls-Heat series. James averaged 27.5 points in two games; he sat out one game with an ankle sprain.

On the Western front, the Memphis Grizzlies may finally have figured out how to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder from smothering Zach Randolph.

OJ Mayo moved back into the starting line-up, and his scoring threat from the outside gave Randolph enough room to score 30 points and take 13 rebounds on Friday night as the Grizzlies avoided elimination by beating the Thunder 95-83 to push their Western Conference semi-final to a deciding Game 7 today.

"It definitely made a difference," Randolph said. "OJ can knock down some shots from the outside.

"It opened up a little bit tonight in the paint. We had great spacing. They've got to guard our perimeters, Mike [Conley] and OJ, so it definitely did make a difference."

Mayo moved from the starting line-up to the bench in early January, though he did start the final two games of the regular season.

The Thunder had held Randolph to 31.9 per cent shooting since he scored 34 points in Game 1 of this series, so Lionel Hollins, the Memphis coach, started Mayo in the place of Sam Young.

"They were just clamping down on Zach with two or three guys," Hollins said.

"We felt like if we put a shooter out there they would have to honour him, and they did. OJ got some shots early on. He got some drives. You have to have some balance outside as well as inside. I just felt like in my gut that was the move to make."

Now the Grizzlies and Thunder return to Oklahoma to play the first Game 7 in these NBA play-offs.

The winner will face the well-rested Dallas Mavericks in the West finals.

* Associated Press