Bulls fall in dramatic rematch with Heat

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Bulls fall in dramatic rematch with Heat

MIAMI Prior to his teams first rematch with the Heat (15-5) since the Eastern Conference Finals, Bulls (17-5) head coach Tom Thibodeau proclaimed, Last year was last year. This year is this year. This is the most important game to us because its the next game.

While that might be technically true, Sundays 97-93 final score, in favor of Miami, provided no solace to Chicago, who hoped for revenge and instead received the same outcome theyve had to remember since May.

Thats the way it is, a glum Thibodeau plainly stated afterwards. Derrick was Derrick, attacking. A hard-fought game, in position to win at the end. We didnt get it done.

Rose (34 points on 11-for-28 shooting, 12-for-14 from the free-throw line, six rebounds, six assists) may have been pressing too hard in the early going in an attempt to change what looked like a sluggish start offensively.

Already short-handed, two early fouls on Rose didnt bode well for the Bulls, something Thibodeau likely realized, as he mercifully reinserted Rose in place of an overmatched John Lucas III, playing the backup point guard role with C.J. Watson sidelined.

An aerial display shortly ensued for the Heat, as LeBron James (35 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) went high above the rim for a couple of crowd-pleasing finishes, as part of a spurt to give the home team some breathing room.

Chris Bosh (24 points, 12 rebounds) played a large part in Miami jumping out to their early edge, but the Bulls quickly closed the gap, by virtue of Rose making an impact via aggressive drives upon his return, as well as Joakim Noah (11 points, 11 rebounds, three blocked shots) playing strong inside and the subtle, yet effective stylings of Rip Hamilton (11 points on 4-for-16 shooting), a game-time decision.

Having weathered the mid-afternoon storm on a less than sunny South Florida day, the visitors trailed, 24-22, at the conclusion of the opening period.

Were a team where we dont let up. Even though were down, were still going to play hard, said Rose. We still have a lot of confidence in ourselves when were down.

Foul trouble and surprisingly, defensive lapses continued to bedevil the Bulls, as both starting power forward Carlos Boozer (10 points, nine rebounds) and understudy Taj Gibson were each saddled with a pair of fouls, adding fuel to the fire that came in the form of a 9-2 Miami run to start the second quarter.

Thibodeau, who had previously alluded to being interested in playing zone defense, actually went to the tactic in an effort to limit the Heats potent driving ability, best exemplified by diminutive rookie reserve point guard Norris Cole and All-Star shooting guard Dwyane Wade (15 points on 4-for-16 shooting), who dished out six first-half assists.

Sandwiched around a a big baseline flush by Gibson were two treys from reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who was previously mired in a slump, to slice into the double-digit deficit and get the Bulls within striking distance of their hosts.

Though the guests to a raucous American Airlines Arena had missed several easy bunnies around the rim, they had furthered decreased the amount of separation to go into the break trailing, 56-51.

Chicago continued to chip away at Miamis lead after the intermission, although a Heat flurry, featuring Wade punishing the rim in transition twice in a row after consecutive Bulls offensive miscues, briefly dulled the visitors momentum.

You turn the ball over against them, live ball, noted Thibodeau. Theyre going to be in the open floor and theyre going to make you pay.

It remained a close-knit affair, however, as the combination of Rose, utilizing his deadly floater, and Noahs confidence and high activity on the offensive end, were countered by the duo of James and Wade.

Despite the Bulls nipping at the Heats heels for the entire period a key for Chicago was Gibson subbing for Boozer upon the starter obtaining his fourth foul, as the third-year backups ability to guard perimeter players, even elite ones like James, was of great benefit they couldnt even things up, as blown opportunities to convert took their toll in a game where easy chances were hard to come by. A James jumper at the third-quarter buzzer gave Miami a 76-71 advantage heading into the final stanza.

James beat the buzzer yet again early in the fourth quarter, knocking down an impossibly deep triple at the end of the shot clock, drawing Thibodeaus ire and leading to a timeout. But the Bulls regrouped and eventually tied the contest at 84 apiece, following a tough Rose the point guards blend of scoring and playmaking had carried his team driving and spinning layup.

The whole game, we had opportunities to get over the hump, but we couldnt get over the hump. We never put them back on their heels, so when we made a run, they made a run. When they made a run, we made a run. If you know anything about the NBA, its all about a game of runs. We had the opportunityit was 84-84they came down and hit two shots in a row. It happens, explained Hamilton. Games like this happen. Its the NBA. Its a roller-coaster ride. Youre going to have your ups, youre going to have your downs, so you just pretty much have to have an even keel with it. A game like this, that happened tonight, from a fans standpoint, people have probably seen it time after time after time.

They would get no closer. As the game entered its stretch run, tensions ran high Noah and Wade received double technicals for a near-skirmish, broken up by Noahs fellow ex-Florida Gator, Heat power forward Udonis Haslem but Miami handled the emotions of the made-for-TV matchup better, as Wade delivered in the clutch to fuel a 7-0 run and James, like in last springs Eastern Conference Finals, was assigned to defend the smaller Rose.

Still, the Bulls refused to die and Boozer, saddled with five fouls, finished in the lane with 1:16 remaining (after repeated squandered missed shots at the rim), followed by Rose converting a three-point play in transition to make it 94-93 with 49.1 seconds left.

Weve been down in those situations in the fourth quarter a lot, Rose observed. We know that we can come back, but we never want to put ourselves in that position.

After James failed to finish a tough layup with contact, Rose pushed it coast-to-coast and was eventually fouled with 22.7 seconds on the clock, but the normally-unflappable star missed both free throws. Amazingly, after James was fouled with 17.6 seconds to go disqualifying Noah he too, missed a pair of attempts from the charity stripe and after the scramble on the rebound, an inadvertent whistle with 16.8 seconds to play resulted in a jump ball at midcourt.

James and Gibson were designated for the jump ball and the Heat recovered it, leading to point guard Mario Chalmers splitting a pair of foul shots with 13.6 seconds remaining. After yet another hectic sequence, the Bulls corralled the rebound and then called a timeout with 9.9 seconds left in the game.

On the final possession, Rose was forced to throw up a tough shot in the lane that was off the mark, Bosh ended up with the carom and was fouled, leading to the final margin.

The way the game unfolded, they kept getting up six points, eight, 10, wed tie it up. It happened over and over. I thought we had good resolve, kept fighting. Things didnt go our way at the end, said Thibodeau. Every game, whether you win or lose, I think its important to understand why. Hopefully you learn, move forward, strive for improvement and when we leave here, weve got to be thinking about Washington. Its a quick turnaround.

Added Hamilton: We had many opportunities, but like we always say, It doesnt come down to the last possession. They missed two, we missed two, so it was a lot of little things. It was kind of a freak game, but we expect it. I think they expected it, too. It was a hard-fought game from both teams and they got a win.

Not just against this team, but any team really, the last couple of minutes are big. They had opportunities, we had opportunities and we thought we had a chance, but the ball didnt go our way and thats the NBA for you, he continued. You try to win every game, every time step on the floor, regardless of who you play. They want to win and we want to win. They got the win tonight.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!