Bulls host Heat in Eastern Conference showdown

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Bulls host Heat in Eastern Conference showdown

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
9:49 a.m.

Associated Press

(AP) -- When the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls squared off last month, each team played without significant contributors.

That won't be the case this time around.

Miami visits Chicago on Thursday night in an Eastern Conference showdown with both teams at full strength.

LeBron James and Joakim Noah missed the Bulls' 99-96 victory Jan. 15 at the United Center, and Miami's Chris Bosh departed early with a sprained left ankle that caused him to miss the next four games.

That left Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose virtually alone in the spotlight for their respective teams.

Chicago star Rose had 34 points to lead all scorers, while Wade scored 33 to nearly lead the Heat back from a 14-point deficit.

"We're looking forward to it," Bosh said of Thursday's matchup. "For one, they're one of the best teams in the East, really the league for that matter, and they're playing well. We feel that we dropped a game when we played them in Chicago. We weren't at 100 percent. They weren't at 100 percent. Now it's a different circumstance."

Noah returned to the Bulls' starting lineup Wednesday, scoring seven points and grabbing 16 rebounds in Chicago's 118-113 loss at Toronto. He missed the previous 30 games because of surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, but the Bulls (38-17) went 22-8 without him.

"It's definitely not the result I wanted but we've just got to keep fighting," Noah said of the loss. "We've got to come with a better edge."

The 118 points allowed were the second-most this season by Chicago, which is limiting opponents to 92.4 per game.

"Defensively we just weren't there," Rose said. "When we needed a stop toward the end."

Rose scored 19 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and Carlos Boozer added 24 - his most since he had 24 on Jan. 29 in a 110-89 victory over Indiana.

Rose, who scored a career-high 42 points last Thursday against NBA-leading San Antonio before starting alongside Wade and James for the East in Sunday's All-Star game, is averaging 30.0 points over his last six contests.

The Bulls likely will need him to step up against Miami again.

The streaking Heat (42-15) have won 11 of 12 including Tuesday's 117-97 rout of lowly Sacramento, with their only loss in that stretch coming Feb. 13 at East-leading Boston.

Miami's superstar trio showed no signs of fatigue after All-Star weekend. James scored 31 points, Wade added 23 and Bosh finished with 22 points and nine rebounds against the Kings.

"Me and D-Wade talked before the game ... and said 'Let's go out and dominate this game,'" James said.

The Heat have done anything but dominate the NBA's elite. Miami is 1-6 against Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Dallas and the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Thursday's rematch with the Bulls begins a 13-game stretch in which the Heat face 12 legitimate playoff contenders.

Miami has beaten Chicago in seven of the last 10 meetings, but the Bulls have won three of the last four matchups at the United Center.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Jimmy Butler limited, Rajon Rondo out as odds stack against Bulls for Game 6

Jimmy Butler limited, Rajon Rondo out as odds stack against Bulls for Game 6

If the Bulls are going to push the Celtics to a Game 7 with a win tonight at the United Center, it’ll have to be under the most improbable of circumstances.

Jimmy Butler is banged up and finally, the Bulls are admitting it as he has a sore left knee he suffered from a collision in Game 4 that has affected him in Game 5. And point guard Rajon Rondo will not be making a miraculous comeback to lead the troops in some made-for-TV moment.

Butler took just two shots in the fourth quarter in Game 5, clearly favoring his left knee, the knee he jumps off of, limiting an offensive game that relies a lot on explosion and contact.

“Jimmy, he’s gonna battle. One thing you know about Jimmy, he’s as well conditioned as anybody in the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s as big a competitor as anybody in the game. He does have soreness, no denying that. He’s gonna continue to go out there and do everything he has.”

After bumping and bruising his way to 23 free-throw attempts in Game 4, Butler took just one free throw in Boston two days ago — the greatest indicator of how this injury is affecting his game.

Hoiberg said Butler didn’t do much in the morning shootaround, and it seems the best method could be using him as a decoy if the Celtics still treat him as a player capable of scoring 30.

“He’s still gonna have the ball in his hands a lot,” Hoiberg said. “Tried to give him the ball with the side cleared, and let him go to work. I thought he drew the defense and got us a couple quality looks, we just didn’t knock it down.”

With Rondo, while he’s improving and has a track record of playing through injuries, it appears his broken right thumb isn’t healing at the rate it needs to for him to be on the floor and contribute without risking further damage.

“Not much. Pretty much the same,” Hoiberg said. “He’s still got a lot of soreness in that right hand, especially with everything he’s got with the torn ligament and also the broken thumb. Not able to do enough at this point.”

So without their best player and their most indispensible, the Bulls are facing an uphill task against a Celtics team that made the Bulls lose a little poise in a critical juncture of Game 5, and will try to push all the buttons again.

And it means more will fall on Dwyane Wade’s experienced shoulders in the meantime, and he believes Butler can be effective even while limited.

“My approach is going to be the same as it was last game — just try to be aggressive. And try to find other opportunities to find a way that Jimmy can still lead,” Wade said. “He’s just a little banged up. It’s fine. It’s the NBA. Jimmy is a tough guy. We have to find different ways to make sure he’s involved.”

For the rest of the roster, Wade believes finding a way to continue their season appears to be a matter of opportunity instead of panic, with the urgency being the best teacher.

“There definitely should be,” Wade said. “This is a big game for our season. It seems like every playoff game, the cliché thing to say is, ‘Oh, this is the biggest game of our season.’ But it rings true tonight. I think it’s a good thing for this young team to be in this situation now just to see how we respond.”

Five Things to Watch: Bulls battle Celtics in Game 6

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Five Things to Watch: Bulls battle Celtics in Game 6

Watch as the Bulls take on the Celtics tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. The point guard carousel. It's been something to watch all year, and with the Bulls desparately searching for answers it will continue to be one heading into Game 6. Isaiah Canaan actually played well against Isaiah Thomas, and Dwyane Wade looked comfortable initiating the offense. That'll need to continue simply for the Bulls to have a chance, with Rajon Rondo ruled out for the game.

2. What's Jimmy Butler's health status? Jimmy Butler attempted just two free throws in the fourth quarter of Game 5. He only went to the free throw line one time, in the second quarter. This goes without saying, but the Bulls' only chance to win Games 6 and 7 is for Butler to be playing like his old self. With his back against the wall, maybe we'll see that "Jimmy Game" where he wins it by himself.

3. Is Isaiah Thomas heating up? The smallest player on the court is starting to heat up in the series. While his shooting hasn't been great, he was super in Game 3, took over in Game 4 and made plenty of plays in Game 5 that led to a win. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see him continue this, as his eyes seem to light up every trip down the floor with Rondo on the sideline.

4. Who's the next surprise contributor? Bobby Portis, Paul Zipser, Isaiah Canaan and now Anthony Morrow have all made surprising contributions in the series. At this point that's what it's going to take to compete against a deep Celtics team that's healthy and rolling with some momentum. Could it be Cris Felicio playing big? Perhaps Portis gets hot again from deep? Either way, it's got to be someone helping Butler and Wade.

5. The Bulls' backs are against the wall. It's simple. Win or go home. How will the Bulls respond in this type of situation, with Boston holding all the momentum and looking to end this before it goes back to Boston for a do-or-die Game 7. The Bulls don't have a lot of pressure on them from a national standpoint, but you can bet their expectations for themselves are large. How they respond early will say a lot about the job Fred Hoiberg did getting them ready.

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