LIVE: Bulls trail Heat 65-63 after third

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LIVE: Bulls trail Heat 65-63 after third

Sunday, March 6, 2011
10:20 a.m.
Associated Press

After the Miami Heat lost their last two games in stunning fashion, questions are mounting about their toughness and confidence.

The Heat can silence some of their critics with a victory over the surging Chicago Bulls on Sunday. A loss, however, would likely still leave them searching for answers.

Miami hopes to earn a rare victory over one of the league's top teams while the Bulls, winners of eight of 10, look to hand the Heat another stinging loss.

The last two games for Miami (43-19) have gone about as bad as they could go.

The Heat blew a 24-point lead in Thursday's 99-96 home loss to Orlando, and fell behind by 24 in the first quarter in Friday's 125-95 defeat at San Antonio, their most lopsided loss of the season. It was the third straight defeat for Miami and the fourth in five games, with the first loss of that stretch coming in Chicago.

"We're still a confident bunch," said LeBron James, 2 for 15 from 3-point range in the last five games. "We know it's a tough stretch for us right now. We lost three games in a row, but I feel like all it takes is one win."

A victory over the Bulls (42-18) would also help show they can contend with some of the league's elite. The Heat, who are opening a six-game homestand, are 1-8 against the NBA's top five teams, including 0-2 versus the Bulls.

"We got to make a stand on Sunday against a team that is gaining confidence," coach Erik Spoelstra said.

The Bulls, 17-9 against teams over .500, have moved percentage points ahead of Miami for second place in the East.

When the Heat visited the United Center on Feb. 24, Derrick Rose, one of the top MVP candidates along with James, had a team-high 26 points and Luol Deng scored 20 - including a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 16 seconds left - in Chicago's 93-89 win.

Dwayne Wade had 34 points in that game and James finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds, but Chris Bosh missed 17 of 18 shots and scored just seven.

Chicago won the first meeting 99-96 on Jan. 15 behind Rose's 34 points. Wade scored 33 for the Heat, who played without James (sprained ankle).

The Bulls were without Joakim Noah (right thumb), their top rebounder at 11.7 per game and a longtime adversary of James.

Despite missing Noah for one of the games in this series, Chicago has dominated the boards, outrebounding the Heat 95-69. The Bulls are second in the league in rebounding at 44.4 per game, and Miami is 3-8 when allowing a team to grab 45 boards.

Chicago, concluding a five-game road trip, outrebounded Dwight Howard and the Magic 50-30 in Friday's 89-81 win in Orlando.

Rose scored 24 points and Deng added 16 for the Bulls, who bounced back from Wednesday's discouraging 83-80 loss to Atlanta, when they blew a 19-point lead.

"Just staying solid," Rose said of Chicago's effort. "That was the biggest thing. When we got the lead, we just wanted to keep it."

The Bulls did that by keeping the defensive pressure on the Magic and forcing them to take bad shots. Chicago, second in scoring defense at 91.9 points per game, held Orlando to its fewest points in a month.

The Heat have scored 96 or fewer in three straight and are 10-15 when failing to surpass that mark. The Bulls are 38-4 when holding opponents to 96 points or less.
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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