Charles Barkley believes the Eastern Conference finals will be an entertaining and competitive series, but he's convinced there will be a new team advancing to the NBA Finals this year.
"I thought the (Bulls' win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday) with Rip Hamilton playing well was a great sign," Barkley said Wednesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "I really think they're the best team in the East.
"When they play Miami, it's going to be a knock-down, drag-out ..."
The Heat beat the Bulls in five games in last year's conference finals before falling to the Dallas Mavericks. The Bulls and Heat split two games so far in the regular season and play again at the United Center on Thursday.
"People talk about how they played the Bulls last year, if you go back and look at those games, every one of those games was tied with two minutes to go," Barkley said. "Every one of those games. And if Rip Hamilton can play anything like he played last night, I think the Bulls have a really good chance against the Heat. I do. I like that team.
"I think the Bulls are better."
Barkley believes if the Heat are going to do anything in the special in the playoffs, it's going to require something special from LeBron James.
"I think that LeBron James has to play at a Michael Jordan-type level every single night because that team has so many holes on it," Barkley said. "Between their bench, lack of scoring inside ... I said this earlier in the year, they're only going to go as far as LeBron James takes them.
"I like Dwyane (Wade). Dwyane is a terrific player. He got a lot of credit for winning a championship (in 2006), but if you go back and look at their series, the reason they won that series is because of Shaquille (O'Neal). He got the one game where he shot 100 free throws. But Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning were the difference in that series. People assume he's the closer, to be honest with you, but LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. If he doesn't play at a crazy level and make those guys better, (Mario) Chalmers, Joel Anthony, Haslem, if he doesn't get those guys off, they can't win. I don't think (James) gets enough credit for that."
"Chris Bosh hasn't had a double-double in like two months," he added. "They're clearly not a good rebounding team. Their bench isn't very good. They have flaws."
And Barkley isn't worried about the sprained ankle that kept Derrick Rose out of Tuesday's win.
"I saw him working out a little bit before the game last night, so it doesn't look like it's serious," Barkley said. "The good thing for the Bulls is they're probably going to have a cakewalk the first round of the playoffs. He'll have time to get himself into game shape. Whoever they play in the first round they'll beat them.