Bulls ready for final regular-season showdown with Heat


Bulls ready for final regular-season showdown with Heat

CHARLOTTEThats the next day, said Bulls head coachTom Thibodeau, indicating that his focus had finally turned to the Bullsshowdown Thursday in Miami against the rival Heat. Next day, next game.If Thibodeau wants to pretend that he isnt completelyconsumed with, as he often says, the next game on the schedule, and not evena small part of his brain wasnt concerned with the marquee matchup prior toand during his teams dismantling of the lowly Bobcats, thats fine. Hisplayers can do the talking for him.We want to continue to win. We want to go into theplayoffs playing well, so we can have good momentum. Obviously we want to lockup the No. 1 seed throughout, so its a big game. We want to win, acknowledgedCarlos Boozer. Its a war, relatively speaking. Battle, hard-fought, they allcome down to one or two-possession games, usually in the last seconds of thegame, so it should be fun.Both teams are very good. I think both teams put a lotinto it defensively, offensively and its the two best teams in the East, hecontinued. I dont know if the Heat respect the Bulls. If they do, they do.If they dont, they dont. Im not really concerned with that. Im moreconcerned with how were doing, how were progressing, how were getting betterand today was a great step in the right direction.Rip Hamilton, a relatively newcomer to the fairly freshrivalry, but no stranger to playoff battlesor even the Heat, let alone theirtwo superstars, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, both of whom he faced off withwhen he played for the Pistons during their title-contending eraalso admittedthe magnitude of the game, even for regular-season purposes, as Miami is stillchasing the Bulls for the Eastern Conferences top seed.Miamis a great team. Special players with LeBron andD-Wade, and Chris Bosh. Youve to make them play at your pace. Youve got tomake them play a half-court game. They get up and down the court, get on thebreak and make easy plays, then thats where theyre good. When you turn itinto a half-court game, then your chances are a lot better, he said. I feelas though since they were the team that made it to the Finals last year,theyre the team to beat. Youve got to go through them, so the intensitysalways going to be high and in order for you to get to where you want to getto, since they were the team that went to the Finals last year, then you feelas though youve got to go through them. You cant go around them.

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Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

College teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder made plans to go to dinner after Thursday’s game in Chicago but for a few short moments they weren’t just competitors but unexpected combatants, getting tangled up in the second quarter.

There looked to be some harsh words exchanged after Butler took a charge on an unsuspecting Crowder near three-quarter court, with Crowder putting the basketball in Butler’s chest while Butler was still on the floor, causing players on both teams to convene for some tense moments.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas got involved and then before Butler could blink, Bulls guard Rajon Rondo joined the proceedings, as pushing and shoving ensued before technical fouls were assessed to both teams after an officials’ review.

If one wondered whether these Bulls—a team that touts itself as young with so many players having three years or less professional experience—could play with some bark and bite, perhaps the season opener provided a bit of a positive preview for the next 81 games.

Nearby, an unbothered Dwyane Wade took a practice 3-point shot, much to the delight of the United Center crowd, as observers witnessed the first sign of tangible proof the Bulls have intentions on regaining a bit of an edge on the floor.

Wade joked and took it as a sign of respect between the two teams.

“It looked like it, right? Yeah. It was a little something out there,” said Wade when asked if there was some chippy play. “Every time we play them it’s gonna be like that. Two teams finding their way in the Eastern Conference. We know we gotta see each other a lot. They never give up. They can be down 30 with 15 seconds left and they’re still gonna fight.”

The Bulls have externally preached toughness from the start of camp. Although Wade didn’t participate in that meeting of the minds, he isn’t exactly running away from such matters.
And Rajon Rondo is competitively ornery enough to have his voice hard no matter the setting.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It’s been a big theme of practice,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We want to play with physicality and toughness. I think it was evident on the glass tonight.”

Yes, the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 19, but that could’ve been a by-product of the Bulls’ crashing the offensive glass on a porous shooting night. And yes, the slightly tense moment between Butler and Crowder probably won’t be an expected occurrence.

But when’s the last time one had multiple examples to dissect to discern this team’s level of toughness—or lack thereof.

“That’s something to show that the guys are out there fighting for each other,” Hoiberg said. “That they were playing with an edge. It happens with this game. You have to be competitive.”

Competition boiled over slightly, but considering the NBA isn’t exactly UFC, one doesn’t have to do much to display a little physical resolve.

“The fact that nothing escalated was good,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that those guys are out there and playing for each other and have each other’s back, that’s a huge thing right now.”

Too many times last season, it seemed the Bulls would submit in situations like those. Not that they were particularly soft, but it didn’t appear they had the collective will to fight for one another if an altercation arose.

Half the time, they looked like they could barely stand to be in the room with each other.

“It’s people’s will to win. Not saying a bad thing about anybody from last year,” Butler said. “To tell you the truth, I study the game and put in a lot of work but Rondo studies the game a lot. Every time I’m in the gym, he’s in the gym. That lets me know, these (dudes) are going to war with you. Every day. When I hit that deck, Rondo was right there. I wanna play with guys that’s gonna play hard, that’s gonna fight.”

And it didn’t take long for Butler to realize he has at least a couple teammates willing to jump in the foxhole with him.