Bulls turn the Heat up on Wade and Miami


Feb 7

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The Bulls Saturday got themselves one of those sigh of relief wins, breaking a three-game losing streak in their fourth game in five nights to defeat the Miami Heat 95-91 behind 25 points from Luol Deng and 24 points from Derrick Rose.

“It was a big win for us,” agreed Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We will be in a fight with Miami all year. There are a lot of teams bunched together for the playoffs and we were able to take care of business without Joakim (Noah, out with plantar fasciitis) and Tyrus (Thomas, suspended for conduct detrimental to the team). Brad (Miller) played a ton of minutes. Everyone played hard and we made plays when we had to in the fourth quarter. Guys produced. It was a good effort.”

And especially because of the message it may have sent to Wade, perhaps the principal free agent the Bulls are hoping to attract this summer.

That the Bulls have a star in Rose who can occupy the defense, which no one among the Heat could as the Bulls successfully trapped, double teamed and boxed in Wade, holding him to 20 points and eight assists. That even without two of their big rebounders and defensive players in Noah and Thomas, the Bulls could still squeeze out a win and at 24-25 are now a game ahead of the eighth place and sliding Heat in the East standings.

And after the game Wade, the Chicago native, made one thing perfectly clear. His destination this summer would depend on his team’s ability to succeed.

“Beginning in the summer, I told everyone it’s all about winning,” said Wade. “I’m not changing from that. We should be much better than 24-27. We’re not the best in the East, but we’re better than three games under .500. The direction of the team is important. I’ll look at that when the time comes.”

Suddenly, tropical Miami is looking like a frigid place for basketball, and Wade has made it clear he’s not going to be left out in the competition cold.

This was a game the Heat should have had a huge edge with the Bulls down two big men with Thomas’ suspension, the Heat having been in Chicago resting since Thursday night and the Bulls playing the second of a back to back starting aged Brad Miller at center after he played 40 minutes in Friday’s loss in Atlanta.

Yet, Miller was even leading the fast break for the Bulls twice, the first time early in the first quarter when he picked off a Quentin Richardson pass under the Heat basket for one of his five steals and took off running the, as he said, slow break, actually going full court and finding Rose at the baseline for a slam dunk.

“He goes at his own pace,” laughed Deng in saying Miller didn’t get oxygen at halftime. “But he’s faster than you think. He’s being doing that for years.”

Yes, it was a light locker room again.

“Our locker room was way more cheerful than it was the past couple of games,” agreed Rose.

Especially after the loss in Atlanta, when Thomas visited what some saw as the mother of all verbal rages upon Del Negro that just couldn’t be ignored.

This wasn’t the first time Thomas’ language toward any of the last three Bulls coaches hasn’t been G-rated.

It was just too much after Thomas played 16 minutes in the loss to the Hawks despite Noah being out. I’ve been lobbying the last few games for Thomas to get some more time given the emergency big man shortage even though I agreed he hadn’t earned it with his play.

The Bulls were down Noah. Taj Gibson also has plantar fasciitis and Chris Richard was just brought up from the D-League, and actually contributed nicely Saturday with seven rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes.

Plus, it’s getting close to the trading deadline and you want your players to have as much value as possible.

But the abusive language I heard about was truly insulting, Even though the Bulls have disciplined the moody Thomas a few times in prior seasons, you cannot have any sort of team discipline if you ignore that kind of verbal attack. If other players see that accepted, how can you have credibility?

The Bulls suspended Thomas for one game, and Del Negro said he’d begin a clean slate from there. I believe him. Vinny doesn’t have an agenda and is trying to win games. But Vinny is just the third of Thomas’ three Bulls coaches who’ve had issues with Thomas. At that point it cannot be coincidence, nor the fault of the coaches, all of whom had different personalities and styles of dealing with players.

Tyrus’ teammates don’t dislike him. But no one exactly had his number written on their sneakers. You just don’t behave like that in any working atmosphere.

Tyrus can still help the team, and especially help himself. He does have unique abilities.

I know it’s frustrating not to play and I don’t mind a guy wanting badly to play. Thomas is a restricted free agent and he seems to be wasting his career and a great chance this season to make himself a fortune of money in free agency. It’s not too late if he gets himself together as the opportunity remains with the Bulls given their lack of front court depth. But he seems to have a self destructive urge that transcends reason.

The Bulls? They just miss shooting themselves in the foot.

Because the way they shoot they’d probably miss their foot as well.

It was remarkable they won that game Saturday as they were one of eight on threes, making it one of their last 18. Jermaine O’Neal had 24 points and 16 rebounds and the Heat outrebounded the Bulls 52-41.

But that was part of the plan as the Bulls defense was constantly scrambling and out of rebounding position to help Kirk Hinrich on Wade with doubles and traps from all directions, forcing a frustrated Wade into seven of 21 shooting.

In other words, we don’t think much of the other 11 guys. Not much to build a winning foundation upon.

“We need to push (out of the traps), but I don’t know if we have the personnel to do it,” said Wade. “We’ve got to find a way to mix it up. Everyone knows exactly what we’re going to do.”

Not exactly an endorsement of coach Erik Spoelstra, who said after the game the team has lost its way.

“I don’t know what that means,” answered Wade. “I know we’ve lost five in a row on the road.”

Yes, an unhappy Dwyane Wade is a good thing for a lot of teams planning to spend money on a top free agent this summer.

Sunshine on your shoulder doesn’t always make you smile.

The Bulls could do a little smiling, but it wasn’t easy and won’t be, especially as long as Noah is out. He sat on the bench in a bronze sport coat with matching beads, only missing a sweater vest in my view for an award winning ensemble.

The Heat gets a good view from three point range as they shoot a bunch of those with mostly an outside game. They attempted 21 threes and 19 free throws while the Bulls, as undersized as they were, pounded the middle for 35 free throws, making 28.

Deng started fast, as he often does, and you have to credit his energy coming into every game. He gets criticized for not finishing as well, though he made a huge play down the stretch with four Heat players leaning toward a driving Rose with the Bulls ahead 89-86 with 43.2 seconds left.

“Derrick was attacking and I was to pop back up and Brad was going to roll,” explained Deng. “But Derrick was so fast I stayed down low and he did a good job of finding me.”

Actually, Deng did more than that, making a sharp cut from the wing and being fouled. He made both free throws for the 91-86 lead with 35 seconds left. The Bulls effectively sealed the game on the next possession when Gibson stepped out on Wade to force a tough shot he missed and O’Neal missed the follow, the Heat fouling Gibson and the Bulls shooting free throws to end it.

“We made plays down the stretch,” noted Del Negro.

And the Bulls stayed in it to get there and finish this time.

They trailed 27-23 after the first quarter when Wade had nine and Richardson had a pair of threes. But Wade has to rest, and the Heat can do little without him. When he returned in the second quarter, they were behind 35-32 after the Bulls opened the second quarter with Miller, Hinrich and Salmons making steals in the first two minutes.

The Bulls pulled farther ahead as Miller caught a tough pick and roll pass from Salmons for a three point play and got the four-point play with a Miami technical. Then Miller got two more free throws on the next possession picking up a loose ball and getting fouled.

Hinrich also made some wonderfully subtle plays, tipping ahead a deflected pass to Salmons for a fast break and down the stretch in the fourth quarter drawing a key offensive foul on Rafer Alston as Hinrich chased Wade aggressively over a screen instead of going under like most do.

“Kirk did a good job on Dwyane especially that one play they run called the wedge and Kirk got his body in there and drew the offensive foul from Wade,” said Del Negro.

The Bulls led 49-42 at halftime when this time Rose hit a long jumper at the buzzer as the Heat relaxed.

“We do play with energy only in gaps and segments of the game,” said Spoelstra. “We’re sloppy now offensively. We need to regroup, gather ourselves in Miami.”

Who wouldn’t? Though the Heat play five of their next six on the road.

Miami took back the lead (there were 12 lead changes and seven ties) in the third quarter with Wade attacking and finding O’Neal for short jumpers with the defense leaning toward Wade. Rose began to find his balky jumper again and Miller made the Bulls lone three after a Richard offensive rebound. Richard twice grabbed misses in the third that led to scores without even taking one wild long jump shot.

“This morning we went over some of the stuff. It came back to me,” said Richard, who was released in training camp. “If I get lost on the offense end I can just go set a screen. That’s the good thing about being a big. I feel like I got better. I grew as a person and basketball player (in the D-League). I guess I’m one of the lucky people who got called up from the D-League in the first place and was fortunate to get called up where I played in the preseason where I know the guys and the system. I knew what my role is whatever team I’m on, to bring energy, defend, rebound, help, whatever I can do.”

Richard even sported a bloody jersey, a nice souvenir of his first regular season Bulls game.

The teams ended the third tied at 69. But this time the Bulls didn’t give in to fatigue or fatalism.

Miller got nice inside position on Michael Beasley to open the quarter on a Salmons miss for a three point play. Beasley was just two of 11 and doesn’t play much in the fourth quarter because of poor defense and shot selection. He was the No. 2 pick behind Rose in the 2008 draft, and some in Chicago preferred him for post play. Sorry, he’s not a post player. He’s a face up jump shooter and a bit of a wild card who seemed most delighted during the game, letting out a primal scream, when he got his one block on a Miller shot. Yeah, he blocked Brad Miller. Now, that’s something to celebrate.

Deng, who was the guy who was supposed to be injured for the Bulls this season but has played every game, got a tough rebound on a Devin Brown miss and went back up to score and Salmons with 15 points scored on a pair of nice step back jumpers as the Bulls would not fall behind in the fourth.

Miami kept coming back, two sequences reminiscent of the Hawks’ board dominance Friday as Wade rebounded his own miss for a score and Carlos Arroyo and O’Neal rebounds on the next Heat possession led to an O’Neal score to bring the Heat within 83-79 with 4:47 left.

But Gibson followed in a Salmons miss, and then Rose took over.

First he blew by Rafer Alston and was fouled and made two free throws for an 87-83 lead with 2:21 left and Wade stopping to yell at Alston. And then after Hinrich drew that offensive foul, Rose beat Alston again and blew by O’Neal’s help and made a tough layup for an 89-83 lead with 1:20 left and the Bulls did just what they needed to finish.

And pretty soon Wade acknowledged he’ll be playing with Rose instead of Alston… in the All-Star game.

“I’m looking forward to playing with him and [Rajon] Rondo and guys like that,” Wade told reporters earlier in the day at shootaround. “Especially point guards that are going to pass the ball to us veteran guys. I’m proud of Derrick, from Chicago, to see another guy from Chicago (in the All-Star game).

“He’s really starting to figure out how good he is,” said Wade. “The reason (Spoelstra said Rose is somewhat like LeBron James) is because he’s so fast. He’s so athletic. His penetration is some of the best. That’s what makes LeBron so good. When he gets the ball in transition he can go one on five and get to the basket. D-Rose is starting to get that same kind of confidence. He’s phenomenal. You could see it last year as a rookie. You could tell that he was going to be one of the great point guards.”

It’s not quite the finish line, but the Bulls at 24-25 survive the four in five nights with two days off and then Indiana Tuesday and Orlando home Wednesday before five days off for the All-Star break. It’s been a long and turbulent first part of the season.

“You find yourself being up all night,” Rose said about this stretch of 10 of the last 13 on the road. “You try to go to sleep but you can’t. Now every time I get off the plane when I get home I take a Benadryl and go right to sleep. Benadryl helped me out a lot on this trip.”

For now with the Bulls, it’s whatever it takes.

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