Bucks continue to have Bulls' number

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Bucks continue to have Bulls' number

After starting 2013 with three consecutive victories, the Bulls (19-14) were flying high, though they also had revenge on their minds with the Bucks (18-16) in town Wednesday night at the United Center.

But after a solid first half of play, instead of avenging their November 27-point collapse, the Bulls were overwhelmed by hot-shooting Milwaukee, particularly point guard Brandon Jennings, and dropped a 104-96 contest.

All five starters scored in the early going, as the Bulls got off to an 11-2 start against their Central Division rivals. The hosts recent trend of unselfish, balanced offense and seizing transition opportunities continued, while defensively, they smothered the Bucks, playing under interim head coach Jim Boylan, a former Bulls assistant under Scott Skiles, the man he replaced in Milwaukee.

The visitors quickly faced a double-digit deficit, as they couldnt muster up a cohesive offensive flow, nor stop the tandem of Carlos Boozer (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (eight points, 12 rebounds) on the interior, not to mention the combination of long-distance shooting and playmaking backup point guard Nate Robinson (19 points, six assists, five rebounds), filling in for injured starter Kirk Hinrich the veteran suffered an elbow injury in Mondays home win over Cleveland, giving him six separate injuries on the campaign brought to the table.

Led by Robinsons trio of three-pointers in as many attempts, the Bulls led, 33-23, after the opening period.

The Bulls second unit had been playing solid basketball as of late, but with rookie point guard Marquis Teague running the show, there was some slippage, which allowed Milwaukee to rapidly climb back into the game. The explosive backcourt tandem of Jennings (35 points, six assists, six rebounds, 5-for-10 three-point shooting) and Monta Ellis (14 points, five rebounds, five assists), along with veteran reserve guard Beno Udrih (10 points, four assists), propelled the Bucks, who narrowed the gap to make it a single-digit affair.

But behind the scoring of reserve Marco Belinelli and Boozer, who picked up right where he left off after being reinserted following his usual first-quarter rest, the Bulls gradually rebuilt their comfortable winning margin. Despite the play of their guests guards and versatile forward Ersan Ilyasova (13 points, six rebounds), the Bulls held a 57-50 advantage at the intermission.

After the break, Milwaukee, buoyed by Jennings scoring and the defense of league-leading shot-blocker Larry Sanders (12 rebounds, seven blocked shots), whittled away at the deficit they faced, eventually overtaking their hosts at the 7:20 mark of the third period, prompting Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to halt the proceedings. While the streaky Jennings point production and Sanders ability to protect the rim were factors in the visitors surge, the fact that the Bulls experienced one of their periodic scoring droughts was also significant.

Jennings shouldered the Bucks offensive burden, hitting four triples in the quarter after each of the last two, he stared down the Bulls bench and imitated Robinsons post-basket airplane celebration and as he caught fire en route to a 20-point period, Milwaukee acquired some breathing room.

Forwards Boozer and Luol Deng (18 points, five rebounds) sparked a furious late-quarter Bulls rally to minimize the separation, but headed into the final stanza, they still trailed the Bucks by a point, 81-80.

Milwaukee got the jump on the hosts at the outset of the fourth quarter, as Ellis and veteran reserve swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr. (16 points, 4-for-5 three-point shooting) led the way until the Bulls second unit fought its way back, closing the gap to a single point midway through the period.

The likes of Belinelli, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler were catalysts for the home team, which used an aggressive, scrambling defense to fuel the comeback attempt.

A close-knit affair heading into the stretch run, despite timely baskets from Jennings, Ilyasova and Dunleavy, who also lit it up from long range on the evening, the Bulls hung around, kept plugging away and with 1:50 remaining, it was a one-possession game, 100-96, in the Bucks favor, after Boozer split a pair of free throws.

But the hosts, facing a Milwaukee defense that leads the league in blocked shots they swatted 14 this evening couldnt get over the hump, as the inability to score late, coupled with a Jennings jumper with 24.6 seconds to go sealed the deal, giving the Bulls their first loss of 2013.

Third time's a charm as Dwyane Wade embraces Bulls and Jimmy Butler as leader

Third time's a charm as Dwyane Wade embraces Bulls and Jimmy Butler as leader

Joking in presentation but serious in intent, Dwyane Wade sat patiently with Bulls GM Gar Forman, refusing to start his introductory news conference until his wife, Gabrielle Union, arrived for the proceedings.

After 13 years of waiting, and then a couple weeks after formally agreeing to join the Chicago Bulls, a few extra moments didn’t feel like an eternity.

For some, Wade was worth the wait.

“Sounds good, doesn’t it?” Forman joked to Wade about announcing him as a Chicago Bull, before going through Wade’s litany of accomplishments, all of which were done in a Miami Heat uniform.

“You make me feel good about myself,” Wade said.

[MORE: Dwyane Wade says the Bulls are Jimmy Butler's team]

With Jimmy Butler off to the side, Wade made sure to announce that despite his pedigree, his rings, his status as a Hall-of-Fame player and respected voice through the NBA that this team isn’t his; He first mentioned owner Jerry Reinsdorf, then Butler, stopping any controversy before it could develop.

“We’re not gonna go through this all year. It’s Jimmy Butler’s team,” Wade said. “He’s a young Bull who can play 40 minutes. I ain’t trying to do all that.”

It makes Forman’s opening statement about Wade that much more poignant, aside from the 20 points and on-floor savvy Wade will likely provide to a young Bulls team and inexperienced coach.

“As important and maybe more so, the presence and intangibles Dwyane will bring to this organization and this team,” Forman said. “From the locker room to the floor to how he interacts with his teammates…it’ll serve our team well.”

Wade has gone through the city in recent days after his trip from China, readjusting himself to Chicago.

“This is one of those moments for me, that is a dream come true,” Wade said. “It took a long time to get here. But I’m here. The excitement the city has shown, I can’t tell what you’ve meant to me.”

[SHOP: Get your Dwyane Wade Bulls gear]

It was a long and winding road as Wade said “let’s take a trip down memory lane”, recalling the belief he thought he would be drafted by the Bulls in 2003 when they held the seventh pick.

The Miami Heat had other plans.

Then when Wade hit unrestricted free agency in 2010, he had another two meetings with the Bulls and seriously considered them.

“Prime of my career. My first meeting was back home,” Wade said. “I met with a few teams, met with the Bulls twice.”

“It was a place I was really pulled toward. I had the opportunity to play with two good players, LeBron (James) and Chris (Bosh).”

The Bulls weren’t able to lure Bosh and James to Chicago, so the thought of being a Bull went as far as a deleted picture on his camera that showed him in a Bulls uniform—before he realized deleted pictures could be obtained through a cloud.

The third time was the charm, as the Bulls presented themselves as a reasonable option when talks broke down between Wade and the Heat early in free agency, creating arguably the biggest personnel surprise of the offseason—and a curious marriage of a player who still has enough game to be effective with a team struggling to claim a new identity on the fly as opposed to hitting the reset button.

“I still have a little bit left,” Wade said. “I wanted to come here and be a part of building this organization back up and where it should be.”

Dwyane Wade: Bulls are 'Jimmy Butler's team'

Dwyane Wade: Bulls are 'Jimmy Butler's team'

Dwyane Wade wanted there to be no doubt whatsoever.

"This is Jimmy Butler’s team."

Taking a cue from former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Wade told reporters Friday during his introductory press conference — after a matter-of-fact joke that the Bulls' are Jerry Reinsdorf's team — that Butler is the leader of this Bulls squad, and his intent was to get that out of the way early and avoid a season-long controversy.

"We're not going to go through this all year. This is Jimmy Butler's team," Wade said. "Myself and (Rajon) Rondo are here to bring what we bring as athletes to this team and to this city. (Butler's) a young bull on this team. He's a 26-year-old that can play 40 minutes a game if coach wants him to and maybe more. I ain't trying to do all that. And we're going to depend on him a lot.

"This is a guy I've known since Marquette University, that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. And as much as Gar (Forman) and John Paxson and everyone did an amazing job of making sure this could happen, this wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler called me and told me he wanted me here, and that was huge because at the time I didn't know. At the time, hometown kid, Derrick Rose, here and he leaves. (Joakim) Noah who's very known here leaves. It's now Jimmy's team. So to want to bring in a guy like myself and Rondo, it shows what he's about. He's about winning.

"It won't be a tug and pull of whose team it is. We're all playing together. We all have one common goal, and that's to win. Jimmy's going to be Jimmy Butler, and I think he's going to grow and be a better ballplayer because of what Rondo brings to the game and because of what I bring."

Wade is one of two multi-time All Stars to join the Bulls this season, arriving in Chicago with Rondo to play alongside Butler on a new-look Bulls team. All that veteran star power — as well as past discussions over the topic involving Butler and former Bulls guard Derrick Rose — prompted the question.

Wade had an answer ready to go.

And the inspiration for Friday’s proclamation came a decade earlier, when O’Neal teamed with Wade in Miami following his three championship wins with the Lakers.

"It's funny to be sitting in this seat," Wade said. "I remember when Shaquille O'Neal came to Miami, coming from the Lakers, three championships. He came to Miami, and we had no championships at the time. And I remember his press conference. I was playing in the Olympics at the time, like Jimmy is right now. And I remember Shaq said, 'We're not going to go through this all year. It's Dwyane Wade's team.'"

Wade has been on superstar-laden rosters before, not only winning a title with O'Neal but also winning a pair of championships alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami, so he's used to this type of environment.

"I can't come into this situation thinking it's going to be the same as when me, Chris and LeBron played together. It's a different situation," Wade said. "I'm excited about playing with two guys I respect as competitors first. ... We'll learn what we need to do, just like we did in Miami, we learned what we needed to do.

"I think the only parallel from that is I've played in my career with other guys that are alphas. ... We have three strong personalities, we have three leaders."

Dwyane Wade denies using Bulls as free agency leverage in 2010

Dwyane Wade denies using Bulls as free agency leverage in 2010

There's been a longstanding rumor that Dwyane Wade used the Bulls as leverage during the free agency summer of 2010.

Wade put that notion to rest on Friday.

During his introductory press conference with the Bulls at the Advocate Center, Wade opened up about how close he was to signing with the Bulls after meeting with the organization twice in 2010 before deciding to form the "Big 3" in Miami with LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

[MORE: Dwyane Wade says the Bulls are Jimmy Butler's team]

"There's a notion out there that I used the Bulls for some sort of leverage (in 2010)," Wade said. "It's a place I really wanted to be.

"They gave me a Bulls jersey in 2010. I went home, put it on, took a picture"

Ultimately, despite his heart trying to sway him to Chicago, the decision came down to Wade not wanting to pass up the opportunity to play with James and Bosh in Miami.

As close as Wade came to becoming a member of the Bulls in 2010, it wasn't the first time that the Chicago native thought he would be playing for his hometown team.

[SHOP: Get your Dwyane Wade Bulls gear]

The Bulls were the only team that put Wade through multiple workouts before the 2003 NBA Draft.

"I thought for sure I was coming here," Wade revealed.

It looks like the third time was the charm for Wade and the Bulls.