Heat advance to Eastern Conference Finals

772294.png

Heat advance to Eastern Conference Finals

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Miami's Big Two was more than enough to finish off the Indiana Pacers.Dwyane Wade and LeBron James turned around a season on the brink with perhaps the most remarkable week of their high-powered partnership, capped off by a 105-93 victory in Game 6 Thursday night that sent the Heat back to the Eastern Conference finals.Wade scored 41 points, James had 28 and Miami wrapped up the series 4-2, advancing to face either Boston or Philadelphia.But this was about more than one game.This was a dazzling trilogy, Wade and James taking control when the Heat were down and looked like they might be out."In the regular season, we've had some good games," Wade said. "But I don't know if we've ever had three in a row like that in the playoffs."Seven days earlier, Miami trailed 2-1 in the series after getting routed 94-75 in Indianapolis. The fired-up Pacers had another game on their home court and a chance to build a commanding lead.Instead, the Big Three-Turned-Two took over.
With Chris Bosh sidelined by an abdominal injury, James and Wade soared to new heights in their two-man game. Over the course of three dazzling games, James scored 98 points, grabbed 34 rebounds and dished out 24 assists. Wade had 99 points, 22 rebounds and 11 assists."Ever since Game 3, they've played at such a high level," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "I don't know if anybody can beat them."Next up, either the Celtics or 76ers in a series that starts Monday in Miami. Of course, nothing less than an NBA title will make for a satisfying summer in South Beach.Two series down, two to go.The Heat rallied from an early 11-point deficit, riding the hot hand of Wade in the opening half. He scored 26 points by the break, tying Tim Hardaway's 16-year-old franchise record for most playoff points in the first two quarters. James hit consecutive baskets with just over a minute remaining to close it out."We understand that when Chris went out, we had to step up," Wade said. "The team looked to us to lead."The banged-up Heat will get a chance to relax a couple of days before worrying about the next opponent, which will be determined in Game 7 at Boston on Saturday.Bosh hopes to return at some point, but it might not matter.Not the way Wade and James are playing."Chris Bosh is an awesome basketball player, but when he goes down, that just means more touches for LeBron and Wade," Vogel said. "That's not exactly an advantage."David West led Indiana with 24 points and all five starters were in double figures. But that balance was overwhelmed by Wade and James.In a game of spurts, the decisive one came in the closing minutes of the third quarter.The Pacers tied it at 66 on Darren Collison's 3-pointer, but it was all Heat the rest of the period. They closed on a 13-3 run, capped by Mario Chalmers' buzzer-beating 3 from the corner. Wade, who was on the bench getting his customary breather at the end of the quarter, leaped from his seat as the ball left Chalmers' hand at the far end, raced along the baseline and pumped his fist when it swished.When Chalmers raced toward the Miami bench, Wade greeted him near the free throw line with a low-five."We just had a bad stretch," West said. "They got us in the third quarter."Cheerleading aside, D-Wade did his best work while in the game. He dropped 11-of-16 shooting on the Pacers in the first half, but also made sure the MVP stayed involved, dishing off a behind-the-back pass to James for a thunderous jam."They're too good. They capitalize on your mistakes," West said. "We were too loose with the ball. They pressure you all over the place."Indiana clamped down a bit on Wade after halftime, but he still managed perhaps his most jaw-dropping basket. Darting into the lane, he threw up a wild-looking, one-handed shot that looked like it might go over the backboard, only to catch the top of the glass and drop through, barely touching the twine.There was none of the nastiness that marked Game 5, when a bunch of flagrant fouls resulted in suspensions for two Miami players, co-captain Udonis Haslem and backup center Dexter Pittman. Pacers president Larry Bird was so disgusted with his team's performance in a 95-86 loss that he accused them of going "soft."Toughness wasn't the problem this time. This was merely a Miami team on a mission, a mission that began in the summer of 2010 when the Heat signed James and Bosh to join Wade in a seemingly unbeatable trio. There was a glitzy introduction and predictions of multiple championships, which left the rest of the league seething and plenty of people cheering when Miami was knocked off in the NBA finals by the Dallas Mavericks last season.Shaking off that disappointment, James had perhaps his greatest season yet. But it was Wade who took control in the decisive game against the Pacers, delivering one final blow when he split West and George Hill, banking in the shot despite taking a knee from Hill that sent the Heat guard tumbling to the court."We just didn't have enough yet," Vogel said, "but we'll be back."Chalmers finished with 15 points, while Mike Miller stepped up to provide some quality minutes, scoring 12 points on four 3-pointers to help fill the void without Haslem, Pittman and Bosh.When Miller wasn't in the game, he stretched out along the baseline to cope with his various aches and pains, more comfortable that way than sitting in a chair. When coach Erik Spoelstra called his number, Miller summoned several of his teammates to help lift him up."He might be the toughest guy on the team," Wade said.The Pacers started out like they were intent on sending the series back to Miami for a decisive game that surely would have had all of South Florida on edge.West knocked down a short jumper right off the tip, Danny Granger stuffed one off a fast break, and the Pacers had their yellow-clad fans in a tizzy when Granger connected on a 3-pointer to make it 13-3 before the game was 5 minutes old. Another basket by Granger, this one a turnaround jumper, gave the Pacers their biggest lead at 19-8.But Miami wasn't going to roll over that easy. Miller made the first of his 3s in the closing seconds of the first quarter, and Wade took over from there. He started the period by banking in a 12-footer, then made another short jumper to leave the crowd stirring uneasily. Miller followed with another 3 - and just like that, it was all tied up.Yet another 3 by Miller, this one a good 5 feet beyond the arc, gave Miami its biggest lead of the half, 41-35. Back came the Pacers, who went to the locker room with a 53-51 lead and hope of extending their season for at least one more game.Turns out, they were down to their last half.Notes: Indiana started 8-of-9 from the field, but went just 26-of-61 (43 percent) the rest of the way. ... The Heat held the Pacers to an average of less than 40 points in the second half over the last three games. ... Miami had only 10 turnovers, its fewest in the series.

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

Jimmy Butler didn't come close to following in his trainer's footsteps, but Mr. G. Buckets Unplugged still proved enlightening.

Following a wild Thursday, Butler hopped on the phone Friday afternoon from Paris to chat with Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about the deal that sent the former face of the Bulls to rejoin Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Butler wanted to be labeled as the face of the franchise, but his comments seem to reflect the old adage "be careful what you wish for."

"It doesn't mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn't as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That's all I want to do. I just want to be winning games, do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I'm trying to do.

"Whatever they want to call me... face... I don't even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I've learned? Face of the team, eventually, you're going to see the back of his head as he's leaving town, so no thanks."

Whoa.

Butler also spoke about trying to block out all the trade rumors while on vacation in France:

"I mean, I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it. 

"It's crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can't get mad at anybody. I'm not mad - I'm not. I just don't like the way some things were handled, but it's OK."

Butler doesn't have to be the sole face of the franchise in Minnesota on a team that has two of the top homegrown young stars in the game in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.