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.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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