Bulls angriest after loss in Miami


Dec 26

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

If the Bulls were trying to make an impression on possible 2010 free agent Dwyane Wade, Friday’s brutal 90-77 loss to the Miami Heat wasn’t a good start.

Of course, one could look at it another way, that perhaps the charitable and sympathetic Wade might feel sorry for his hometown team and try to help. The ESPN national announcers on the post Christmas Day late afternoon broadcast Friday spent considerable time talking about how Rose had helped out a local Miami family who’d lost their home to fire over the holidays.

The Bulls’ problems weren’t as grave. But it was a miserable day for the Bulls as well with the loss in the game just a small part of the difficult day. It included:

— Luol Deng suffering what appeared to be a severe sprained ankle in the third quarter and leaving for the game, though X-rays were negative. There was no further report, but these kinds of injuries this season have put players out up to a month and it was tough to lose Deng, who was one of the more aggressive Bulls early with nine rebounds in 22 minutes. For those who have said Thabo Sefolosha is more a forward and needs more time, he should be starting at small forward, I’d assume, Saturday in Atlanta.

— Derrick Rose being outplayed variously by fellow, though less heralded, rookie point Mario Chalmers and No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley. Chalmers is now claiming 3-0 head to head with Rose including a summer league game. Not that either played that well, but Rose had one of his poorest efforts of the season. And though Miami did a good job of trapping on the perimeter, you have to wonder if Rose is feeling the effects of being 15th overall in the NBA in minutes played at 37.7 per game and added to that with 38 minutes Friday.

— Aaron Gray being the best player on the floor for the Bulls. This is sort of a joke since Gray was as good as he’s been this season with 12 points and 11 rebound on five of seven shooting and some nice post action and passes out of doubles. But he had just one assist as teammates missed wide open looks. The joke is Gray’s not near the most effective player on the team, and when he looks like it, it’s not going to be a good game for the Bulls.

— A seemingly startling lack of energy and effort, though with Deng out that’s three potential opening day starters in Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Drew Gooden not playing, which is way too much talent to overcome for a team hardly that deep. Here’s something else scary: Larry Hughes, who has a reputation of being fragile, appears to be one of the healthiest guys on the team. You wonder if there is someone the Bulls can pick up with Deng’s injury looking bad. Likely not. In looking for guard help for Rose the Bulls got Lindsey Hunter and he rarely plays. Cedric Simmons, hello? Still, despite frequent pleas to speed the game, the Bulls appeared in slow motion and stationary, rarely attacking the basket (13 total free throws) and so unaggressive on defense they set an alltime Miami opponent record for fewest fouls committed in the first half, three.

— And then with 30 seconds left and Miami ahead by 13, the Heat called timeout, which seemed to get the Bulls more upset than they were all game.

Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, always spirited as a player, reportedly told players to remember what the Heat had done to show them up with assistant Del Harris gesturing toward the Heat bench after the game, apparently not in one of those “good game” sportsmanship gestures.

“They were just calling timeout to set up a play or something,” Del Negro told assembled reporters with an edge after the game. “I don’t know what they were doing. There’s 30 seconds to go in the game. They’re up 15 or 13 or whatever. But, whatever, we’ll play them again.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he was mystified.

“I wanted to get our guys out,” Spoelstra said. “They had some guys at the scorers’ table (the Bulls didn’t). I wasn’t clearly doing anything to show anybody up. That is a common practice in the NBA. I wanted to get our guys out, just in case something crazy would happen, and it allowed them to get their subs in, too.”

Though as Spoelstra added afterward, “Whatever.”

The Bulls’ worst loss of the season, at least on paper, was the 116-74 drubbing in Portland Nov. 17. But this one in scoring 77 points and shooting 37 percent was worse, to me, in coming against a team with few scoring options other than Wade with 28 points, but 11 of 23 shooting, and perhaps less inside game than the Bulls. Ben Gordon led the Bulls, who fell to 13-16, with 15 points, most in the first quarter. Gray was definitely the best big man on the floor playing against Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and Udonis Haslem.

You’d say as a fan, OK, the team accomplished something in that game from Gray. And it would be nice to see him continue, though he had some trouble late when Miami stayed smaller. You’d also say with some teams it was a South Beach game, the kind of lethargic effort you see from some teams after a night in Miami in the winter. But the Bulls don’t have those kinds of guys.

You almost wish you could point to that kind of excuse for a team that’s at least competed hard all season, though losing Gooden and later Deng for most of the second half does put too much stress on the team’s limited depth up front.

Positives? I wish I could have seen more.

Tyrus Thomas got a start with Gooden out and Andres Nocioni having been hit in the head in practice by Gray Thursday, though he did play despite earlier fears of a concussion. It is difficult to keep Nocioni sidelined.

Thomas had four steals in being active early, though he again settled for too many jump shots given a scouting report that doesn’t have him guarded much as his man helps off. Until Thomas makes that shot more consistently-and I believe he can-he probably needs to keep moving more. He got out on a fast break and dunked in the first quarter as the Bulls didn’t fall behind this time and led 21-18 after one quarter.

And late in the second quarter in a game the Bulls looked like they were dominating with a sluggish Miami first half effort, Thomas took off after a Chalmers miss and ran the court ahead of three Miami forwards, scoring on a slam dunk to give the Bulls a 45-40 halftime lead.

Somewhere Scott Skiles was shaking his head and saying Thomas never did that for him.

And though the Bulls weren’t playing particularly well, they still were hanging in down 64-62 after three quarters in a game with way more hype and anticipation than actual production.

It was-and that’s how it got a national TV holiday weekend spot-the No. 1 and 2 overall picks in the draft, Rose and Beasley. And as a sidebar, it was Rose against Chalmers, the Kansas guard who drilled that three to force overtime in the national championship game won by Kansas over Memphis.

Chalmers stripped Rose of the ball once, though Rose had five turnovers and just three assists, Rose’s second most turnovers in a game this season. It was one of his three poorest such ratio games this season and the fifth time he’s had more turnovers than assists.

It also wasn’t a great afternoon for Rose’s All Star hopes as the national TV games have much greater impact than they should. It’s why Notre Dame always had so many Heisman winners, though basketball writers actually see the games they vote on compared with college football writers.

Rose had just 10 points on three of 14 shooting, getting in too deep too often and losing the ball or pitching out as Miami played the passing lanes well, which is part of their defensive philosophy. It is a good one for a team that is 16-12, already one more win than all of last season, though doesn’t appear very talented to me beyond Wade. But the Heat did a good job of trapping on the perimeter, not just Rose, recognizing the Bulls inside players don’t score much or move well to the basket on the pick and roll.

“I just tried to contain him, not let him get easy stuff,” said Chalmers.

“Shots that I usually would hit, layups, they just weren’t going for me,” Rose said. “They were giving me the shot and I missed them.”

Chalmers had 16 points and a solid six assists and two turnovers, though Wade does considerable ball handling in their offense. Beasley had 14 points and six assists.

Don’t worry, and as we know, Rose was the right choice all day long.

Beasley didn’t do much most of the game, and is no post player, which he was advertised as. He primarily plays a face up game and isn’t much of a defender as his instincts are poor. When he was the trap man on the perimeter, he’d often break too fast and actually run by the dribbler or return to quickly, allowing a lane off the pick.

But Beasley did as advertised to open the fourth quarter, which was when the Heat took over a game in which the Bulls seemed to be controlling despite their poor shooting. Gray and Joakim Noah were far more active and effective inside than Miami’s slogging group.

“No one on our team played particularly great,” said Del Negro.  “I thought Aaron Gray gave us a nice little boost there which was terrific.”

But Beasley, with eight of his 14 in the fourth, opened the fourth with a drive past Noah for a score and foul, though he missed the free throw. And then the Bulls really began to fall apart with Nocioni missing a jumper, then being stripped by Beasley on a drive for his fourth turnover and Rose again getting caught inside and smothered and losing the ball.

“It was a close game and then it just got away from us,” said Gordon. “We consistently made bad plays and didn’t play winning basketball. I think we took ourselves out of the game. That’s what happens when you play like that in crucial moments of the game. Offensively I couldn’t get it going and just as a group we couldn’t do anything consistently on either end of the floor. We couldn’t get stops consistently and we weren’t coming down and getting good shots consistently. It’s tough to win when you’re not doing anything well.”

Hughes then made a nice steal on a soft Marcus Banks pass and dunked on the run out, but Beasley then faced up and hit a 20 footer to make it 68-66 Miami. After a Sefolosha free throw, Daequan Cook slipped into the corner alone and made a three. Hughes pulled up for a jumper and then Beasley and was fouled hard (how else) by Nocioni, sending the Heat bench into a rage and the teams later into that back and forth with Nocioni continuing to lash out in a frustrating season. The two free throws gave the Heat a 73-69 lead, but Rose answered: 73-71 Miami with eight minutes left.

And then depression set in.

Cook hit another three. C’mon, someone get that guy. Noah followed in a Rose miss, but Haslem then scored on a nice roll pass from Wade, Hughes missed wide open on a pass from Rose and Cook made yet another three with no one in the vicinity and Rose just flashing by as Gordon was again picked off.

“We missed a lot of shots, we didn’t play well, and we didn’t move the ball a lot. When the only thing you’re looking for is jumpers, it’s really tough,” noticed Nocioni. “I think Miami played well. I think they played the way they need to play. They kept the tempo of the game slow. Really slow, so that we play the same game as Miami and they are better than us when they play slow and take their time. We needed to speed the game up a little bit, but we didn’t.”

Now with under six minutes and Miami with an 81-73 lead, Wade took the ball in his hands, running down the clock and parading to the line to shoot free throws while the Bulls strained against the inevitable.

“I thought it was a Miami-Heat-basketball-type win there in the fourth quarter,” Spoelstra said. “It’s something we’ve been trying to build.”

Gray lost the ball and committed a foul and was pulled after 22 seconds, Gordon threw the ball away facing a double and then Thomas missed, got the ball back and had the put back attempt blocked by Beasley and then committed a foul. The two Haslem free throws put Miami suddenly ahead 86-73 with 4:46 left, and you knew the way this game was going even if the Bulls shutout the Heat the rest of the way they couldn’t score enough to get close.

“I don’t know if we lost our composure,” said Del Negro.  “I just think we didn’t execute well and we didn’t get any stops and then all of a sudden it’s a close game and then you would look up and we were down eight or 10 points, which is still plenty of time, and we had the mindset to always fight back and we tried tonight.  But then Luol Deng going out, and no Drew Gooden, and we haven’t had Kirk Hinrich.  I thought we contained Wade just about as good as you can do.  He’s still going to make shots and plays because he has the ball in his hands all the time.  Overall we just couldn’t get enough points to put enough pressure on them.”

The Bulls left the court angry, as you would hope, but not why you’d think.

“That is something only done to disrespect the opponent,” said  Nocioni about that timeout at 30 seconds left

“I don’t know why they’re all fired up,” Spoelstra said. “If they want to make a big deal about it, whatever.”

Must have been one of those Pat Riley mind games, though you’d rather the Bulls were angrier earlier.

So the Bulls march to Atlanta in lots worse shape than the guys from the north used to be in when they came there. These are the kinds of losses that really burn.

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