Bulls' inconsistency at home continues with loss to lowly Suns

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Bulls' inconsistency at home continues with loss to lowly Suns

While the Bulls (20-15) have proved that they are capable of beating some of the league's best teams in a hostile environment, they've also shown that they're equally likely to lose to some of its worst squads on their home court.
That trend continued Saturday night at the United Center, as the Bulls laid an egg in losing to the woeful Phoenix Suns (13-26), 97-81, in an affair that was never in doubt for the visitors after the opening period.
After collectively pledging the previous evening to eliminate their inconsistency--whether it be lackluster efforts at home or playing down to inferior competition--the Bulls' vow didn't show immediate results.
However, against the lowly Suns, they managed to take a slight edge in the early going. Their success came despite Kirk Hinrich picking up two quick fouls, which wasn't necessarily the worst thing in the world, given the potential for infection in the bursa sac of his right elbow--a notion Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau bristled at prior to the contest.
The team's other veteran starting guard, Rip Hamilton (12 points), got off to a quick start, by way of his usual perimeter play, while Joakim Noah's (10 points, 13 rebounds) typical high activity level also buoyed the hosts.
Phoenix kept plugging away, though, and behind crafty power forward Luis Scola (22 points, seven rebounds), the visitors caught up to their hosts--even briefly overtaking them--but the Bulls escaped with a 21-20 lead after a quarter of play.
The contest remained a close-knit affair in the second quarter, as Scola continued to give the Bulls problems with his combination of sophisticated footwork, savvy low-post moves and mid-range jumpers.
Not helping matters was the fact that both Robinson and fellow reserve Taj Gibson got into early foul trouble. The former was still effective as a scorer and playmaker, and while another backup, Marco Belinelli made an impact offensively, the Suns clung to a tenuous lead.
Phoenix played with energy and scrapped on the defensive end--not exactly their forte-- and were buoyed by contributions from the likes of Michael Beasley (20 points) to keep the hosts playing from behind. The former No. 2 overall draft pick in 2008 was actually considered as a possible top selection over Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose, is now an NBA journeyman and had been buried on the Suns bench as of late, but received minutes in this outing due to starter Jared Dudley being sidelined due to injury
Beasley caught fire toward the end of the half, helping the visitors widen the gap and acquire some breathing room. Capped off by a short jumper with 1.2 seconds remaining before the buzzer, his torrid stretch sent the Bulls into the intermission facing a 49-42 deficit.
After the break, the forward duo of Luol Deng (13 points) and Carlos Boozer (15 points, 10 rebounds) came to life--although the latter picked up a technical foul--but they were countered by Scola's continued positive play, as well as that of Chicago-area native Shannon Brown.
Although Boozer and Hamilton helped the Bulls play more efficiently on the offensive end, the home team's defense was lacking, resulting in Phoenix building a double-digit lead, as the visitors' momentum snowballed.
The Bulls' effort wasn't in question at this stage, but their execution and how long it took their sense of urgency to appear were issues. As the third period waned, it became clear that while the desire was there--most evidently in the case of Boozer and Noah--a blend of questionable officiating and bad bounces prevented them from making much headway.
Frustration clearly affected the Bulls--the normally even-keeled Deng also received a technical for berating an official--and as they headed into the final stanza trailing, 77-63, they had an uphill battle on their hands.
Playing with frantic energy at the outset of the fourth quarter, the Bulls' second unit, fueled by Jimmy Butler (13 points), appeared poised to mount one of their trademark rallies. But the inability to get stops on defense or string together an offensive run meant the hosts soon found themselves actually behind by an even larger margin.
Phoenix, playing its fourth game in five nights, had no sympathy for the Bulls' back-to-back plight, and exploited the Bulls' lack of cohesion and general impatience to maintain a stranglehold on the contest. In particular, center Marcin Gortat (eight points, 10 rebounds) and reserve point guard Sebastian Telfair (13 points, six assists) made their respective presences felt.
The unraveling of the Bulls continued, as Robinson and Thibodeau were both hit with technical fouls in short succession, giving the squad four on the evening, mostly in response to perceived non-calls by the referees.
Even Thibodeau saw the writing on the wall as the game entered its stretch run, as he removed his regulars from the contest and inserted the likes of rookie point guard Marquis Teague, seldom-used forward Vladimir Radmanovic and newly-acquired shooting guard Daequan Cook for the conclusion of the disappointing return to Chicago.

Making adjustments nothing new for new Bulls star Dwyane Wade

Making adjustments nothing new for new Bulls star Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade has always had eclectic tastes in threads, but considering the career adjustments he’s had to make, the 34-year old might decide to be a tailor when he hangs up his Way of Wade kicks.

Going from point guard to shooting guard after his rookie year? No problem.

Assuaging the sensitive ego of Shaquille O’Neal after O’Neal’s rocky breakup with Kobe Bryant? Child’s play.

Allowing LeBron James to take over his team and his city after two seasons where he averaged 28 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals? Sure, since it meant more rings.

Adjusting to his knees robbing him of his transcendent explosiveness? Excuse him while he walks to meet the media with both knees wrapped in ice — while wearing a smile.

Being introduced first, second or last? Doesn’t matter, as long as Tommy Edwards says “from Chicago” as a nod to Wade’s hometown roots.

So in making the biggest geographical change to date, moving back to Chicago after 13 years in Miami, Wade is prepared to shift again — even if it means being a 3-point shooter, even if it means playing different roles to suit the changing needs of this roster.

“My game translates anywhere,” Wade said after Wednesday’s morning practice, “I’ve played with so many different players before. I’m not worried about that. It’s me trying to understand offense, understand what we’re trying to do. Get to know my teammates. But I know where my sweet spot is, when to get aggressive, etc. One thing I’m trying to get used to is that 3-point shot is going to be open a little bit more for me, and coach is telling me to shoot it. That’s a little new era for me.”

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Bulls fans probably remember Wade hitting his share of devastating 3-pointers against them over the years, even though his 386 career makes only account for .05 percent of his made field goals.

There was the four-point play in Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals at the United Center when Wade’s Heat stormed back late to clinch a trip to The Finals. Very few can forget the heartbreaking, buzzer-beating running triple after a blindside steal from John Salmons in the 2008-09 season, so it’s not that he lacks the ability.

The Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors found that out last spring when he hit 12 in 14 playoff games for the Heat.

“In the playoffs they take things away, right,” Wade said. “In the regular season, you play so many games teams sometimes don’t get a long time to prepare for you, so they may try and take one thing away.”

The logic was followed by a little hubris, earned considering he’s risen to such heights without having to rely on it.

“For me a lot of people have talked about me not shooting threes, but no one has been able to take away what I wanted to do. So why would I do something else?” Wade queried. “But then when you take it away I have the ability to knock it down. I’m not Doug McDermott. I’m not Niko (Mirotic). But I’m comfortable with the shot, and I’m going to shoot it. I know it’s going to be there, so I have a better chance of knocking it down. Coach has been on me about it.”

Wade will have to take the shot to keep defenses from sagging too far down on Jimmy Butler drives, and the hope is Butler goes back to shooting 38 percent from the long line as he did in 2014-15 as opposed to the 31 percent he shot last season.

For things to work in a potentially awkward situation, Wade has to be willing to step a little outside himself and seems prepared to.

“Normally I had to be the guy that would put it on the floor, but more so than that just pick my spots,” Wade said. “Understand when to be aggressive, but I’m a play-maker as well. I’m always looking to make plays for my guys.’’

Wade understands Fred Hoiberg’s offense is more equal opportunity than isolation-based but knows the instances will come when he must be the primary scorer — particularly late when he’s one of the league’s premier fourth-quarter scorers.

“Last year I averaged 19, the other 21.5. I can score, that's fine with me,” Wade said. “I'm willing to do whatever it takes. Scoring is one of those things that comes natural. It just depends on how high field-goal percentage I shoot. I'm not concerned about that. If coach wants me to score, then thank you.”

New tone set in Bulls training camp marked by role adjustments

New tone set in Bulls training camp marked by role adjustments

With eight new players and likely three new starters for the Bulls, an adjustment period of roles has started to take place in the opening days of camp.

Shot creators turn into shot makers.

Full-time ball handlers revert back to being part-time dominators.

First-time leaders are supplemented by experienced leaders who bring an instant credibility and speak with a bluntness that wasn’t as present last year—even from the coach.

A new tone of sorts was set when Dwyane Wade didn’t give the stock “nobody cares what happened last year” spiel after being asked if he wondered about what went wrong on the floor and off with the Bulls.

“You ask the guys that were here last year, how rotten it was,” Wade said. “You want to hear from their perspective, whatever it was last year from the standpoint of losing. You don't do that. I come from a different place and a different culture. Things are done differently different places. So I sat down and listened to guys.

“But the thing is, some of the things they talked about I know are not going to take place. Not while I'm here, not while (Rajon) Rondo's here, not while Jimmy (Butler) continues to grow as a leader.”

It adds light to some of the thoughts that Butler expressed after Tuesday’s first practice, and what anyone with a set of eyes could see last season when the Bulls looked like a fractured group that didn’t enjoy playing with each other anymore.

There wasn’t outright disdain, but some of the damaged relationships were never repaired as the season went on. Putting that into an alphabet soup with losing, bad habits and injuries and it spelled out “something’s gotta give.”

“You definitely gotta like each other. If you don’t, and you can say this doesn’t happen, but I feel like if you don’t like a guy you’re not going to pass him the ball,” said Butler, who had some rocky moments last season as a leader. “I think there’s a lot of liking on this team. Like I said, everybody wants everybody to be successful. Do we like each other too much? I hope so.”

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Refreshing honesty is a change at the Advocate Center, with Wade and Rondo being the adults in the room. The two have the latitude from Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to stop practice to get on guys, and they did so Tuesday.

“You just want to cut down all the chatter; it’s early,” Rondo said. “Only a couple of guys should be talking in practice. As far as disrupting when they do stop practice, coach has the voice then assistant coach has the voice and then the other players.”

It’s not a surprise given Hoiberg won’t be one change his ways overnight, and having a player-run team are often the most successful, assuming everyone is on the same page.

It sort of speaks to Bulls vice president John Paxson’s statement on media day about the Bulls’ rebuilding their culture from the ground level.

“You talk about last year, but at the same time, last year doesn't matter,” Wade said. “We have a different core, and I think our culture is fairly different. We have guys now, Rondo's won a championship, I've won championships, we demand respect on the court. But we've got a lot of young guys as well, so they'll listen.”

Wade and Rondo have both said the Bulls are Butler’s team, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be wallflowers if they see things they don’t like. Wade has been a vocal leader in some form for the last decade and Rondo has rarely, if ever, held his tongue.

Rondo, along with being a primary facilitator for Butler to make scoring easier, imparted some wisdom to help Butler in his ever-evolving role as a leader.

“Not doing it with my mouth but with my actions, being consistent; I told Jimmy a leader can’t pick and choose when he wants to lead,” Rondo said. “He has to come out every day, every practice; we’re having two a days. If you are down, need something to get your head right, you have to bring it every day, every day.”

Hoiberg said there has to be a mutual respect amongst the team, which can lead to chemistry and camaraderie.

“It takes a lot of those moments when we all make mistakes and the coach is on us, that's when we come together,” Wade said. “In the locker room, when we're in there talking about anything, talking about whatever. it takes a lot of being on the road, traveling together. You're on a road trip, you go out dinner together. It's going to take a lot of moments to get the chemistry that we need.”