Bulls lose to Heat


Mar 26

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I was reminded of the classic comedy movie “Airplane” Thursday while watching the Bulls joke they called a big game Thursday in losing 103-74 to the Miami Heat.

It was as bad an effort and as poor a game as any Bulls team has played in three decades. See, it was something special, as advertised. The Bulls trailed at halftime by 30 points for the first time since 1980, the equivalent of a franchise in deep trouble and headed for disaster.

That was the theme of the famous 1980’s comedy that had the frantic controller played by Lloyd Bridges walking through scenes with the airplane headed for disaster, offering,

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.”

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.”

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”

The Bulls certainly picked the wrong week for a game like this.

It was a special, national TV game on TNT with the famous studio crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson calling the game from the United Center. It being a TNT night, there were few other games in the NBA, meaning most players were watching, sort of the Monday Night football of the NBA.

And certainly watching were the elite free agents as the Bulls and Heat are two of the principal franchises, along with the Knicks, representing major media markets trying to recruit the top talent to sign as a free agent this summer.

It was like a coach going on a college recruiting visit for a top prospect with dirty, sweat stained clothes, bad breath, three day stubble and a severe case of gas.

It was uglier than that. It smelled about the same.

“I think they played very well and we played terrible,” Joakim Noah offered most simply. “We didn’t play with a lot of energy. Our help defense was pretty bad. Every aspect of the game we played really bad. This was a big game, obviously,
and we didn’t compete very well.”

It was so much worse than the score suggests or anyone could say.

The TNT crew spent a good deal of time making jokes about the Bulls, like Barkley who opened the fourth quarter saying he wished they were back in the Atlanta studio… so they could watch something else. Smith noted the “Los Bulls” uniforms and called the Bulls “muy terrible.”

Johnson, the sympathetic one, kept sighing and seemingly looking away, like a parent watching a child botch every play in a Little League game.

“I thought they were more physical and quicker to the ball,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We did not respond well with our defensive intensity. Our rotations were slow and we were not physical enough. They dictated the tempo, we just did not shoot the ball well. They kept attacking us and (Michael) Beasley and (Jermaine) O’Neal hit shots for them. Obviously this one was big. We had good practices and I thought we were well prepared. It was just one of those nights, bad timing. It was a key opportunity for us and we did not take advantage of it. We had no answers to what they were doing.”

For the record, the Bulls fell to 33-38, the identical record they had at this point last season when they went on to finish seventh in the East. So mathematically… However, I don’t recall any losses like this late last season.

The Bulls are two and a half games behind the Toronto Raptors and without the tiebreaker for the last playoff spot. Making it seem unlikely, though Toronto has played poorly the last several weeks as well. Though not quite matching the Bulls losing 11 of 13. So it remains possible, though few teams in league history have played as poorly as the Bulls did Thursday in losing like that at home.

Playoff race. Big TV game. Where’s the competitive spirit? Where’s the fight? Where’s the pride. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The Bulls actually led early, 10-8 as Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose, who each ended with 12 and Gibson also with 10 rebounds as one of the few who kept trying, each scored four. But the Bulls went cold on the way to 32.9 percent shooting and perhaps a symbol of what was to come was James Johnson with the score tied at 10 pulling up on a one-against-three to shoot a 20 footer.

It was every one for himself, and the season is as good as over if they’ve decided they’re going to get theirs for whatever reason.

And Vinny was no help, either, as the Heat were prepared for what the Bulls would do and the Bulls failed to counter just about anything.

The Bulls generally blitz the pick and roll, which sends the man who covers the screener at the ball handler in a double team. But it was a lazy double. So the Heat had the screener slip and dive to the basket, where there is supposed to be weak side help. Only there was none.

“Our weak side defense was not active,” said Del Negro. “We need to translate what we do in practice in the game. We were a step slow all night. They got a lot of points in the paint in the first half. We did not rotate quick enough and we did not make them take enough jump shots.”

Of course, Del Negro didn’t react, either and one after another the Bulls played the same defense and Miami beat it every time.

Dwyane Wade ended the game with just 12 points and 10 assists, six in the first quarter and nine in the first half as the Bulls constantly doubled and trapped Wade and he found cutter after cutter for easy layups as the Heat punished the Bulls 52-28 in the paint, 36-10 in the ugly first half.

Then when Miller got a second foul early, Del Negro had to hold off on Noah given his time limitation for plantar fasciitis. Though the way it’s going you may as well play him regular minutes. Or forget playoffs because with Luol Deng still out and by the time Noah getting in the game being maybe out of hand, you’re going to be able to get a lot of rest for the summer pretty soon.

Del Negro went with guard Flip Murray at small forward, it being little surprise after Johnson began to shoot himself to the bench with that one-on-three jumper. So the Heat sent Quentin Richardson repeatedly into the post against the smaller Murray and scored three times before the Bulls went with Hakim Warrick. Warrick ended as the high scorer with 14, though 12 in the fourth quarter when Barkley was hoping to watch 30 Rock.

He probably wanted to laugh at something else.

It was 31-19 after the first quarter and 63-33 at halftime. Though that was one good thing as you couldn’t say you can wait around for an NBA game until the last five minutes. This was over long, long before that as the “bunch of Tito Jacksons,” as Barkley derisively calls the Miami role players, dominated the Bulls.

The Heat was up by 24 late in the second quarter despite Wade held to four points and Beasley scoreless.

Yes, old, broken down Jermaine O’Neal dominated the Bulls again for 24 points. Carlos Arroyo outgunned Rose. Joel Anthony had five blocks. Udonis Haslem outscored Wade.

What, you couldn’t beat those guys?

This was supposed to be a Bulls showcase for Wade to return to Chicago as a free agent. Failing that, it, at least, was a face off for the benefit of Chris Bosh, regarded as the most likely top free agent to leave his current team. Play with Wade and the Heat or the Bulls? So which team would give you a better chance for a championship?

I doubt any decision will be based on one game. But it was a chance for the Bulls to help build a case, though perhaps all the guys who won’t be here didn’t think that was so important.

You would think having maintained their core with Rose, Noah, Deng and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls would be attractive. And certainly they still are given Noah’s limited play and Deng out with injury. Still, it gives you pause when everyone gives up like they did Thursday when things go badly.

And it had the promise of something special, not only with the TNT game and studio crew and the free agency ramifications. The Bulls and Heat played a spirited, angry game in Miami earlier this month that included flagrants and an ejection, charges of dirty play and warnings of things not being forgotten.

Instead, the Bulls surrendered quickly and meekly, outgunned and out thought by the Heat.

“The last game was a little chippy, but we put that aside,” said Wade. “My game plan going out there was to get my teammates involved. I knew they would have two guys coming at me. That let me get my teammates involved early. Everyone played unselfish and we passed the ball well.”

Wade acknowledged he hasn’t played well against the Bulls and Hinrich and said he thought about it a lot and said he just was too anxious being back in his hometown, that he needed to slow the game more, especially because the Heat like to control the pace and play aggressive half court defense.

So Wade, as the cliché goes, let the game come to him, and he took it and passed it right by the Bulls as they gazed stupefied.

Everyone took his turn looking foolish and lost.

Rose dribbled the ball out of bounds on one occasion without much pressure. Hinrich in the Bulls last possession of the first half froze on a shot and passed to himself for a turnover. Jannero Pargo looked great dribbling into a shot and then hit the bottom of the backboard a few feet from the rim. Chris Richard back rimmed an open slam dunk and the Bulls lost the ball out of bounds. Rose got at least three shots blocked. Hinrich stepped out of bounds on a fast break. It was just brutal.

TNT cancelled its third quarter interview with Del Negro because the Bulls were losing by 20. The league doesn’t mandate coach interviews in such a losing situation.

Who knew? There’s a slaughter rule in the NBA. And they used it to save the Bulls further embarrassment.

Nets Saturday. Pistons Sunday. That should tell us all we need to know about whether this was the wrong week to put your faith in the Bulls. It’s the wrong week to quit playing. So let’s see what this group is all about.

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