MIAMI In many ways, the 2011-12 campaign has been an improvement for the Bulls from the previous campaign, at least in certain areas. While injuries have prevented Derrick Rose from reaching an MVP level again, the improved health of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the development of further depth and consistency within the Bench Mob, Luol Deng making his debut All-Star appearance and adding a legitimate scoring threat at the shooting-guard position in Rip Hamilton, all represent progress.However, at the tail end of the regular season, its clear that something is missing. Perhaps this reads like a knee-jerk reaction after a disappointing loss to the Heat, but whether or not last seasons squad was a true title contender in hindsight, the veritable bullying of the Bulls by the Heat wouldnt have occurred a year ago, not with the likes of Kurt Thomas and Keith Bogans around.Say what you want about Bogans lack of offensive firepower and though the Bulls post-player rotation have remained relatively healthy throughout the year (knock on wood), Thomas would have been an excellent insurance policy, but more significant to any on-court contributions theyd provide would be Miamis knowledge that the two veterans wouldnt permit the flagrant fouls, whether called by the officials or not LeBron James bone-crushing, dirty screen set on the diminutive John Lucas III, while it was officially a non-call, was as bad, if not worse, than the called flagrants committed James Jones and Dwyane Wade wouldnt be happening, at least not without some sort of retribution.This isnt a judgment of the Bulls front office for not re-signing the pair, as the Bulls league-best record cant be second-guessed at this stage of the game. But whether its Bogans, Thomas or another non-nonsense veteran that opponents respect, if not fear payback if one of the Bulls was targeted on the floor, the team simply lacks anybody with an enforcer-type quality.By no means is on-court violence being advocated, but as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the humbling defeat, I just want them to respond. Hamilton, while not the player whom opponents fear from a brute-force standpoint, comes from a background his former employer, the Pistons, were known as one of the leagues most physical teams during their title-contending heyday explained it best.When youre fighting and youve got aspirations and dreams and you want to win a championship, youre going to do anything and I felt as competitors, thats what were going to do to help our team win, he said. When somebody tries to put you on your heels, you never get on your heels. Youre going through them the whole game. You dont allow anybody to go through you. Weve just got to do a better job of putting our foot on the gas and responding, and not allowing them to do different plays where were on our heels.Hamilton himself was the victim of one of the aforementioned flagrant fouls committed by Miami, as longtime nemesis Dwyane Wade outright shoved him afterwards, Wade admitted he didnt even try to be covert, as he felt Hamilton was getting away with fouling him and wanted to direct the officials attention to the situation prompting one of the handful of skirmishes, in which the Bulls were reacting to the Heats actions.Its part of the game, man. Its one of those things that happen in the heat of the battle. Youre going to have plays like that, two people just trying to outwill each other, trying to fight, Hamilton explained about the incident with Wade. He knows what Im going to do, I know what hes going to do, so its one of those things where, Im not going to give you the edge, and hes going to do the same thing with me. I didnt think he was going to back down, he didnt think I was going to back down, so its all part of the game.Anything happens in a game. Anything happens in the heat of the battle. Its one of those things that just happened, he continued. I didnt even know they called a flagrant foul. I thought they called a technical, but its part of the game. Thats what playoff basketball is about.Its one thing for isolated incidents, like the situations with Hamilton and Lucas or center Joakim Noahs angry response to Jones foul, to briefly fire up a team. Its another to maintain that mentality throughout the course of a game, without losing focus or control, yet letting the opposing squad know that there wont be any of that going on, not without severe repercussions.I think weve got to get better. Thats what the playoffs are going to be about. I know what youre going to do, you know what were going to do, said Hamilton, one of the few Bulls in the locker room when the media was allowed to enter. When somebody pushes their foot on the gas and tries to push us back, weve got to push even harder.Thats the game. When youre playing in the playoffs and you know one game can send you home, thats what youre going to get. Youre going to get an ugly game, added the veteran shooting guard, who answered all the time, when asked if the physical tone set Thursday evening would persist in potential future matchups with the Heat. Ive been in many ugly games in my career and thats the game that you want to be in. You want to be in a dogfight.As far as intense game, yes, it goes without saying that the Bulls have the mental toughness and dont shy away from physical play allowable under the rules. But judging from the Heats approach and honestly, going back to the first-round series last spring with upstart Indiana, in which the Pacers, even with Thomas and Bogans present, displayed a similar mindset, especially in defending Rose, though they didnt have the talent to translate it into wins, at least at that point in time it wouldnt be surprising to have other teams attempt the same course of action (after all, it was a nationally-televised, high-profile affair) in the future.With three games remaining in the regular season before the playoffs begin, the Bulls have enough on their hands with Roses uncertain health status and even without him at 100 percent, they should be capable of surviving a first-round matchup, especially if they maintain the Easts top seed and face the free-falling 76ers, as the Carmelo-Anthony Knicks could pose problems for even the stiffest of competition. But beyond the opening round, where the likes of Boston and Indiana could lurk, and assuming they return to the conference finals, another anticipated showdown with the Heat, it wouldnt be surprising to see their mettle tested again.
Heat loss a blueprint for Bulls' play?
April 20, 2012, 6:33 pm