Ask Aggrey: Can Bulls contend with Heat's physicality?

743296.png

Ask Aggrey: Can Bulls contend with Heat's physicality?

Doesn't it feel like we were suffering through the lockout just yesterday? It's been a hectic journey, but here we are, in the last week of the regular season. With the playoffs almost here, the effects of the condensed schedule on players are evident, but it's still certainly been an intriguing season to cover and the postseason bodes to be even more exciting.

The Bulls are poised to make a deep run, but after recent games against the likes of Detroit, Washington and Charlotte, as well as the regular-season finale against Cleveland, it's hard not to think of those cellar dwellers.

Apropos of nothing, my pick to turn things around next year is Golden State, a team the Bulls have surprisingly struggled with in Oakland the past few seasons. Mark Jackson gets a pass in his head-coaching debut season, but with an aggressive ownership group, a lottery pick in a deep draft, money to spend in free agency, point guard Stephen Curry and trade-deadline acquisition Andrew Bogut, a top-five center when healthy, having an entire offseason to get their bodies right and solid complementary pieces like productive power forward David Lee and rookie sharpshooter Klay Thompson, I see the Warriors making a splash next season.

Now that my stream-of-consciousness rant is out of the way, let's get to this week's mailbag:

Can the Bulls contend with the Heat if their eventual playoff matchup gets as physical as their last meeting? -- Phil E.

Phil, while last Thursday's game was certainly disappointing, I believe it was an aberration. To paraphrase Thibs from before Saturday's Mavericks game, you can't be a top defensive and rebounding team, and be soft. I think the Heat came out with the intent of proving a point and the Bulls were simply unprepared. As disturbing as it was to see, I don't believe that will happen again if the two teams meet in the playoffs.

What the loss in Miami did was even the mental edge the Bulls gained from their two home wins -- one without Derrick and the other in the worst game of his career -- making home-court advantage that much more important. Now, I do think the Bulls could use an enforcer-type veteran, a la Kurt Thomas, that Miami knows they'll have to contend with in exchange for cheap shots, but I think their collective toughness will surface if the Heat tries similar tactics again, though that has to start with delivering hard, yet legal fouls to send a message.

Do you know who picks the music they play at Bulls games? Do the players have any input? -- Julie P.

Julie, I have no clue who picks the music, but I'm fairly positive the players aren't part of the process. I don't know if you're a fan or not, but I've kind of taken a liking to the United Center's family-friendly -- if sometimes outdated -- music during games. The UC definitely doesn't boast all of the current hits, like some other NBA arenas, but the atmosphere, sense of history and quality product make up for that deficiency, if you perceive it that way. Still, if the players had a say in the matter, I'm pretty sure they'd come up with a different playlist.

Does Taj Gibson have a future with the Bulls? -- David D.

David, that's a great question. Taj, along with Carlos Boozer, form one of the league's top power-forward duos, as both are starting-caliber players and their strengths and weaknesses -- Taj's athleticism and defensive prowess, Carlos' shooting touch and polished offensive game -- complement each other well. That's why I don't see the Bulls trading Taj in the offseason, although Taj will be entering his fourth season and will be eligible for free agency after the season.

Barring a major trade, the team's front office understands its core group -- which includes Boozer, who is more productive than many give him credit for and with his hefty contract, is virtually untradeable anyway -- has a championship-contending window. In order to maximize that, especially with their style of play, holding on to Taj next season would be wise, though they might not able to afford to keep him once he hits the free-agent market.

If and when that happens, they are very high on one of last year's draft picks, Nikola Mirotic, who recently won his second consecutive EuroLeague Rising Star award. Mirotic is a different player than Taj and is viewed as a talented face-up power forward with shooting range and offensive versatility, but there will be an adjustment as he transitions to the NBA. That said, there's a chance he crosses the water prior to the 2013-14 season and if that occurs, I think it will coincide with Taj's departure, simply based on financial reasons.

What's your take on the whole Dwight HowardStan Van Gundy saga in Orlando? -- Joey Y.

Joey, since the Magic's melodrama took another twist with Dwight's recent back surgery, the situation has somehow become even more complicated. I don't see any way, short of a miracle playoff run -- which is highly unlikely, considering their downward spiral and injury-plagued roster -- that Stan returns to coach in Orlando next season. Despite his protestations that he prefers to stay put, that should come as relief to him.

However, I doubt a coaching change will keep Dwight with the Magic. While I don't believe reports that the organization wanted to have him fly on AirTran -- at least not on a commercial flight -- I think it's clear that his time in Orlando has run its course. The Magic look like a team in need of clearing house, from the general manager and coach to various veteran role players and the All-Star center. At this point, I expect them to aggressively seek out potential trade partners in the offseason. While Dwight opted in for an extra year, with his injury potentially affecting him at the beginning of next season, it's probably time to cut ties, maximize what they can get for him while they still have leverage and get some pieces to rebuild with, whether solid veterans or future assets.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks beat Avalanche; Bulls lose to Mavericks

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks beat Avalanche; Bulls lose to Mavericks

Preview: Loyola faces Northern Iowa on CSN

Vinnie Hinostroza, rookies pace Blackhawks past Avalanche

Bulls can't answer Wesley Matthews' game-winner in loss to Mavericks

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Five Things from Blackhawks-Avalanche: Great night for the rookies

White Sox prospect Michael Kopech fires a 110 mph max velocity throw

Bears challenged to replace coaches involved in three all-rookie selections

Fire draft two Charlotte 49ers to close out draft

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

Illini dominated in ugly blowout loss at Purdue

After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn't have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 points in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."