Heat Check: Bulls complete sweep of Miami

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Heat Check: Bulls complete sweep of Miami

Sunday, March 6, 2011
2:40 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
MIAMIWas anything less to be expected? The Bulls (43-18) made sure the Heats (43-20) much-discussed late-game strugglesand losing streak, now at four gamesendured Sunday afternoon, with an 87-86 victory at the American Airlines Arena, sweeping the season series in Chicagos favor.

A pair of early dunks by Joakim Noah (11 points, eight rebounds, two blocked shots) got the Bulls out of the gate quickly, but the unselfish approach of the visitors was countered by the offensive balance displayed by Miamis superstar Big Three trio of LeBron James (26 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals), Dwyane Wade (20 points, five assists, four rebounds) and Chris Bosh (23 points, five rebounds). Bosh seemingly put his miserable outing in Chicagothe All-Star power forward shot 1-for-18 when the two teams last played, proving key in the Bulls' victoryand was an integral part of the home teams offense in the opening period.

Meanwhile, James and Wade led the Heats aggressive, swarming defense and goaded their guests into unforced errors, leading to easy fast-break pointsin fact, the number of Bulls turnovers and Heat transition points (six) was equal after a quarterwhich was the exact scenario Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was most concerned with heading into the matchup. Chicago floor general Derrick Rose (27 points, five assists) didnt force the action, preferring to be a playmaker and was content with hitting mid-range jumpers at the games outset.

While James uncanny shot-making ability was, as always, a variable that cant be prepared for, Luol Deng (18 points, three assists, two blocks) made him work for his buckets (and even swatted a James baseline drive out of bounds, although James scored on the ensuing in-bounds play) and knocked down a triple on the Bulls final possession of the period. Miami, however, held a 22-18 lead after a quarter of play.

Chicagos reserves, so steady and highly acclaimed as of late, werent at their finest to start the second quarter, allowing the Heat to run off six consecutive points and take a double-digit lead before Thibodeau called timeout. Bosh, now matched up with Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds)who returned to the contest after exiting early in the first quarter with two quick foulscontinued to be effective, serving as his own second units focal point offensively.

Thibodeau eventually filtered in his regulars and the Bulls chipped into the deficit, with a stingy defense, an unselfish offense and the continued strong play of Deng leading the way. A scary moment for Heat fans came when James, after going behind the back in transition, then getting fouled, took a hard fall and appeared to injure his left wrist.

James stayed in the contest, however, and questions of his immediate health were answered upon his leaping snatch, save and heady pass of an offensive rebound to Wade for a layup while sailing out of bounds. Rose, James prime competition for the leagues MVP award, also rose to the occasion with his smart passing, continued proficient pull-up jump shooting and a trademark difficult finish at the rim while absorbing contact.

In the waning moments of the first half, El Heat capitalized on the offensive struggles of Los BullsNoche Latina at the American Airlines Arena was marked with the aforementioned Spanish monikers on the respective teams jerseyswith a 7-0 run to again make it a double-figure gap between the squads. A Rose floaterand the foulwith 3.9 seconds left in the second quarter ended the spurt and allowed the Bulls to pull within 49-40 at the intermission.

In the first half, we were a step behind most of the half and I thought they got whatever they wanted, said Thibodeau. "And then the second half, it was much better. Our ball pressure was better, getting back was better, our offense was better."

I thought our offense caused us a lot of problems in the first half, from our turnovers, quick shots. If you have poor shot selection against this team and you put them in the open floor, youre asking for trouble. If they have a live ball, its very difficult to get back and get a stop.

More of Bosh and James hitting deep two-point jumpers opened the third quarter, but the Bulls turned the tables on Miami, getting out in transition with Rose briefly taking over the game for a stretch after consecutive warp-speed, coast-to-coast driving layups, prompting Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to call timeout as M-V-P chants for Rose were drowned out by boos. The home team quickly responded, creating some separation after Chicago narrowed the gap, but the visitors stayed resilient and cut the deficit to a one-possession game midway through the period, with Noahs energetic play serving as a catalyst.

Chicago tied the game early in the final stanza, then went up on a Deng jumper, taking its first lead since the opening period. The visitors second unit rose to the occasion, reeling off six consecutive points to begin the fourth quarter, leading the home-standing Heat to halt the proceedings with a timeout for adjustment purposes.

Our bench has been great and they continue to be great, and I think its huge, especially when were on the road and you want to buy your starters some rest; you guys the media remind me of that all the time, said Thibodeau, slipping in a joke between himself and the reporters that cover the team. You can trust those guys and every night someone different steps up.

Chimed in Rose: The bench did a great job with getting the lead and holding it.

As the game entered its stretch run, the visitors kept Miami on its heels by answering any chance of the home team gaining momentum with a crowd-silencing basket or defensive stopthe off night of Heat reserve swingman Mike Miller aided Chicagos causeuntil a Mario Chalmers (11 points, five assists) three-pointer with 1:05 remaining in the contest knotted up the score at 84 apiece, prompting Thibodeau to call timeout to strategize. Out of the timeout, sharpshooter Kyle Korver missed a triple and on the subsequent Heat possession, a blown defensive assignment allowed Chalmers to drive to the basket uncontested to give Miami an 86-84 lead with 25.8 seconds to go.

After conferring on what to execute, Deng was fouled on a driving fall-away runner with 17.3 seconds left, then hit the front of end of his two free-throw attempts, before missing the second. However, in the ensuing scramble for the offensive rebound, Noah kept the ball alive and Deng ended up with the missed carom and was fouled again, this time making both to put the Bulls up, 87-86, with 15.9 seconds on the clock.

We had a play, they guarded it well and Kyle did a good job of skipping the ball, and they kind of overplayed it, I drove to the basket and got fouled, recounted Deng about the play, which some observers felt was a questionable foul call after the offensive rebound. I missed the second free throw and I thought it was a great playplay of the gamefor Jo to tip that ball. I wasnt boxed out and I just went right for the ball, I was pushed. Because of Jos play, I got a chance to redeem myself and I knocked them downI just felt confident going to the line.

Youve got to look at it and see it again, but I really thought I got fouled. I felt like I got pushed and the referee made the call. In the NBA, especially with games like this, its the little things.

Exclaimed Noah: The basketball gods! They were on our side.

Afterwards, Thibodeau had high praise for Dengand even joked with reporters about the small forwards heavy minutes, somewhat of a sore spot for him usually.

Luol, you can just trust that guy. He does everything for you, lauded Thibodeau. Even the last play, Jo tip-in, Luol coming up with the loose ball, the foul, going to the line, got the second chance to make free throws and he did. You look at Lu the whole game, hes got a tough coverhes on LeBron the whole timebut you can count on that guy every night and hes a complete player. He does everything for us. Hes the glue of our team.

Following a Miami timeout, James got the ball at the top of the key and drove on Noah after a defensive switch. The reigning two-time MVPs late-game struggles persisted, as he missed a layup in traffic and after Wade ended up with the miss, he, too, failed to convert, erring on a jumper from the corner, with starting shooting guard Keith Bogans (in for defensive purposes on the final possession) snatching the board to end the game.

We were just switching pick-and-rolls and he made a nice move. I tried to make it as hard as possible for him. We shrink the court very well and D-Wade got a pretty good look, but it just feels good to come up with a big W on the road, Noah explained. To be honest, he made a nice move and I tried to recover as fast as I can. I just tried to make it as tough as possible for him. I want him to shoot over me.

Thibodeau commended Noah for his defense after the game.

LeBron has the ability, even when you defend him perfectly, to still make and the challenge is not to get him frustrated and to make shots tough, but I thought that Jo really protected the rim," Thibodeau said. "That was a big-time play at the end.

We hung tough, he went on to say. We got aggressive, fought our way back into it. It was just a grind game all the way and then some big plays at the end.

It wasnt pretty, but we got the win.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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.