Familiar foes Bulls, Heat have mutual respect

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Familiar foes Bulls, Heat have mutual respect

MIAMI -- Always, said Joakim Noah, when asked about facing a familiar foe Friday night, the defending-champion Heat.

Its always big to play here, continued the center, who will return to action after a one-game absence, due to flu-like symptoms. Its going to be fun.

I dont think its just another team in the East. Theyre very good, we want to compete against the best and its always a battle, so its going to be exciting.

Thats an understatement. Obviously the Bulls arent considered an elite team by observers this season, partially due to Derrick Roses recovery from ACL surgery, as well as the departure of the majority of the Bench Mob, but that doesnt mean Miami isnt taking them seriously.

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They still have that Chicago Bulls fabric and toughness. They just grind. I think the fact their fifth in the Eastern Conference right now with the MVP out shows you the character of the team. Theyve had a lot of changes, their bench looks totally different and yet, they still find a way -- even after tough losses -- they find a way just to grind, stay in there and win enough games to get them right in the middle of the pack of that Eastern Conference, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after his teams morning shootaround. Theyre a dangerous team, and theyre mentally and physically tough enough to win in any building, and we know that, regardless of Rose being out, bench looking different, you know how theyre going to play, so its going to be an extremely physical, competitive game, likely will be close. It doesnt matter which building -- here or in Chicago -- and well have to earn it, and well have to play a complete, 48-minute game.

Reigning league MVP LeBron James concurred: We understand what Chicago brings. They bring a lot of size, a lot of physical play. Their defensive intensity makes you focus even more on your offense, your ball movement.

The respect is mutual, as the Bulls have gone toe-to-toe with the Heat frequently over the past two seasons and while they havent always come out on top, virtually every game has been a dogfight. But just because Miami has a title under its belt now, not to mention adding the likes of sharpshooter Ray Allen during free agency, dont expect the Bulls to defer to their rival, although theyre wary of the champions firepower.

Theyve added a significant player in Ray Allen, so the three-point shooting, its always been big, but its even bigger now, so their offense is spectacular. They added a lot to their team and they won the championship last year, so their depth makes them even more dangerous, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. A guy like Ray Allen is a big shot-maker late in the game, LeBron James continues to get better, Dwyane Wade is healthy again, Chris Bosh sort of fills in whatever needs they have for whatever particular game theyre playing. His skill sets unique; put him at the five, they can out-quick you up and down the floor. Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, those guys are great role players. Mario Chalmers is a guy who sort of flies under the radar, another great role player. So, its a team thats very well put together.

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Chimed in Noah, when asked about countering Miamis small-ball approach -- Bosh plays center now, something he previously resisted in his career -- something theyve used extensively since switching to it last postseason: Rebounding, defense, try to give them the least amount of opportunities in transition because when they start playing that fast-tempo, transition game theyre pretty much unstoppable, so its on us to try to slow them down as much as possibleIve never faced it before, so well have to wait and see, see what it looks like, but theyre obviously very talented, they spread the floor very well, theyve got great shooters and they have great talent, but they still post up a lot with LeBron, so they have a lot of offensive firepower.

For Miamis part, they aren't taking the Bulls for granted and even without Rose in the lineup, the Eastern Conference squad thats given them the fiercest battles over the last two seasons is still must-see TV.

Ive seen them. Ive watched them -- a lot -- and the adjustments theyve made, theyve kind of went away from the pick-and-roll theyve done in the past with D-Rose being such a good pick-and-roll player, to a lot of catch-and-shoot, using Joakim at the high post because hes such a great passer and a facilitator, James explained. Also getting the ball into Luols hands, as well, because hes a really good offensive player, as well, so they do a good job of getting everybody involved in their offense, not having their MVP out there.

Bosh added: They all play a certain type of way. They play physical basketball and we pride ourselves on being able to play a bunch of different styles, and they present a unique challenge. They play a lot of good team ball. They have a very unique defense, where they really try to slow the pace down a little bit, so we just have to make sure we play sure our game. Usually, the team that plays their game, where theyre in their comfort zone, is the aggressor and we want to play our style of basketball.

Its always a challenge as a player, putting everything to the test, putting your skills to the test, intensity, focus. A national-TV game, of course. We know the energys going to be great and to be able to just showcase your talent, both team-wise and individually, its always a good time, he continued. We know how they play. Theyre going to crash the boards, its going to be physical. You know theyre a paint team, they want to get down there and get in the paint.

Wade concurred: Its a competitive team and we enjoy playing competitive games, and this team is very competitive and theyre physical, whatever they let the game be called. For us, were just going to continue to try to play our game and well see what happens from there, but I think the Bulls are a team who I think surprised a lot of guys early on without D-Rose and making some offseason moves, and still be the team we became accustomed to. When you talk about defensively, rebounding the ball, theyre still that team and a very tough team to play, a gritty team, so theyve got some very good wins, especially on the road, and weve got to come out and protect home court.

Even Bulls players you wouldnt necessarily think of immediately -- veteran guards Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich, for instance -- are on Miamis radar.

Theyre two good NBA players. Rip is a world champion and hes done so many great things in this league, James said. Kirk has always been solid, no matter where hes been. His first stint in Chicago, in Atlanta and now back in Chicago, hes been really good, not only for the team hes been on, but for this league. We respect everyone.

Wade added: Rip is one of those guys, since Ive came in the league, Ive had multiple battles with. You play guys in the Eastern Conference Finals and youre going to have those war marks, war wounds, and weve had that, so weve had many battles, but I respect Rip as a player and what hes been able to do consistently in this league from that standpoint. So, he brings the best out of me and I feel I do the same.

One things for sure: Miami is a game that every opponent gets up for, but unlike other opponents, the Heat will be equally ready for the Bulls. That said, the visitors to American Airlines Arena want to maintain the same approach thats served them so well during Thibodeaus tenure.

Thats why you want to build the right habits, so you dont want to change your approach for any game. You want to be consistent, you want to do the same things to get ready for an opponent: know them well, know what youre trying to get to, analyze their strengths and weaknesses and then, you have to go out and execute, the coach said. Its the next game and again, from the start of the season, we didnt want to change. We wanted our approach to improve every day, get better and hopefully be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, and be healthy.

2016-17 Bulls player preview: Isaiah Canaan

2016-17 Bulls player preview: Isaiah Canaan

Chicago Bulls training camp is right around the corner, with the first preseason game coming Oct. 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Between then and now, CSNChicago.com will take a look at each player on the Bulls’ roster to preview and possibly project their importance to the team as the Bulls hope to qualify for the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

Player: Isaiah Canaan

Position: Point Guard/Shooting guard

Experience: 4th season

2015-16 stats: 11.0 points, 1.8 rebounds

2016-17 Outlook: It’ll be a game of musical chairs in the Bulls’ backcourt this season with the backup positions and Canaan will be in the mix for playing time at both positions, despite his small 6-foot-0 frame.

He’s more scorer than facilitator and looks for his offense, being aggressive in the pick and roll and in the open floor. It could be a change of pace from Rajon Rondo’s style, as Rondo can push the pace but will definitely be in control. If Canaan beats out Jerian Grant, Spencer Dinwiddie and Denzel Valentine for minutes, he’s going to play at a breakneck speed, looking to force the action and reacquainting himself with a familiar statistic: Field Goals Attempted.

Per 36 minutes last year, he took 13.2 shots and nearly nine of them came from the 3-point line, which accounts for his career shooting percentage being below 37, as he gets up a huge bulk from the long line.

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Having spent the majority of his career with the then-tanking Philadelphia 76ers, Canaan’s value is hard to project and one wonders if he’s gotten accustomed to losing environments.

In Philly, though, he was able to get plenty of experience, playing 77 games last season in what was probably as eye-opening for him as anything he’s ever endured in the NBA.

With the depth, though, seeing the above-mentioned players likely being ahead of him in the rotation means the Bulls won’t be as dependent on him for wins — but during those dog days of the season, when the injuries can pile up and the excitement is low, one wonders if Fred Hoiberg can toss Canaan out there and his energy can help the Bulls to a win or two in February — which could come handy in April when all wins matter if you’re trying to compete for a playoff spot.

2016-17 Bulls player preview: Doug McDermott

2016-17 Bulls player preview: Doug McDermott

Chicago Bulls training camp is right around the corner, with the first preseason game coming Oct. 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Between then and now, CSNChicago.com will take a look at each player on the Bulls’ roster to preview and possibly project their importance to the team as the Bulls hope to qualify for the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

Player: Doug McDermott

Position: Small Forward

Experience: 3rd season

2015-16 Stats: 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds

2016-17 Outlook: It’s been a steady progression for Doug McDermott from his rookie year to last season, as he’s symbolic of what Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wants his system to be: A floor-spreading, free-wheeling wide open system, one that displays the new reality of the NBA.

McDermott, at times last season, showed his proficiency despite his limitations. Few were better from the 3-point line, as he shot 42.5 percent, ranking fifth in the NBA. In semi-transition, he was a sure bet to spot up from the left wing and position himself for a pass and quick release.

With Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo all able to make plays, McDermott will be counted on more than he has before to make shots with space at a premium.

McDermott and Nikola Mirotic will have to provide the shooting to keep defenses honest, which could lead to McDermott being the first sub off the bench for a guy like Wade or Butler, leaving the latter to anchor the second unit in the second quarter.

His game opened up last season after the All-Star break, especially with his ability to create his own shot. It’s not a staple of his game and who knows how much he’ll have to use it with the ballhandlers on the floor, but he did have a reliable baseline fadeaway and one-legged runner he would go to every once in awhile.

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The Bulls’ offense ran better with him on the floor, averaging 116 points per 100 possessions. February produced his best month as a pro, averaging nearly 15 a game on 52 percent shooting—splits that could be more common as his career progresses. But what he gives, he often gives away on the defensive end and it’ll be a battle to keep him on the floor with some of the concerns the team will have as a whole.

Keeping players in front of him with his lateral movement is an issue, and even being in the right place defensively off the ball isn’t a given. But a lot of that is scheme and the Bulls have to be better collectively.

Expecting him to take another step this season as he knows what to expect and gains more confidence in his own game isn’t unreasonable—and finding consistency will be important to his future in the league, as he’ll be eligible for an extension following his third season.

In other words, there’s plenty of tangible and intangible incentive to improve.