Bulls

Dwyane Wade grabs leadership reins for undermanned Heat

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Dwyane Wade grabs leadership reins for undermanned Heat

The Miami Heat practiced Sunday in Chicago, and head coach Erik Spoelstra implored his leaders to do just that: lead.

Dwyane Wade got the message.

Wade and the Heat were reeling entering their Monday-evening tilt with the Bulls, certainly not the hottest team in the league but one that returned home following a wire-to-wire victory over LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Having dealt with injuries to four of their six leading scorers the past two weeks, Miami had lost seven of their last eight, including their last three on the road.

Again shorthanded Monday night, with point guard Goran Dragic missing his seventh straight game and center Hassan Whiteside out with an oblique strain, the undermanned and undersized Heat got their leaders to step up when they needed it most. Miami erased a nine-point Bulls lead in the second half and closed the game on a 13-5 run to earn a much needed 89-84 victory over the Bulls.

"When it’s tough we’ve got to lead more," Spoelstra said of himself, Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem. "And when it gets tougher we have to lead even more. And that started yesterday in practice, with their approach in shootaround today and the approach (tonight) to bring it with a no-possessions-off mentality."

[MORE: Wade turns back the clock as Heat top Bulls]

Wade played every possession, and the Heat needed them all. He scored 28 points, his most in more than a month, and added seven rebounds and five assists. It was a throwback performance for Wade in his hometown, complete with a baseline jumper that kissed off the glass, a dunk in transition, spin moves in the post and timely passes to open teammates, a welcome sight for a team desperate for offense; the Heat hadn't topped 87 points during their four-game losing streak and averaged 86.7 points in their last eight games.

Thirteen of Wade's 21 field goal attempts came in the painted area, and he also went to the free-throw line eight times.

"That’s the biggest thing for our team, when myself, when Goran’s back, when we’re getting in the paint that allows us to be aggressive, scoring the ball and get our teammates better looks," he said. "That was the whole mindset."

A matchup of two of the NBA's best defensive teams — Miami ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, the Bulls eighth — was destined for a low-scoring affair, and the rebounding of fill-in starter Amare Stoudemire (10 in 25 minutes) and the hounding defense from rookie Justise Winslow (Jimmy Butler scored 13 points on 15 shots and just four points in the final period), who had nine rebounds and two steals, helped Miami back into the game after they scored just 12 points in the third quarter.

But in the fourth quarter it was Wade's playmaking — and leadership — that closed the door for the Heat.

He hit a pair of shots early in the period, and later connected on a free throw to tie the game at 82 apiece. Wade then drove the lane and found a baseline-cutting Winslow for a dunk to give the Heat a two-point lead.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Pau Gasol hit a jumper to tie the game with 1:14 left, but Wade came back and found Bosh open on a pick-and-pop after Gasol followed Wade to the basket with Butler. Bosh connected on the 17-footer, his 18th point to go with seven rebounds, and the Bulls couldn't answer off an inbounds play set up by a Wade deflection.

With 22 seconds left, Wade called for a screen, knowing Gasol had been switching on the wing, and drained a 21-footer over the seven-footer with 22 seconds left to put the game out of reach.

"They were calling a switch majority of the time on that play," Wade said. "I knew they were. Kind of already knew, wasn’t surprised, got a shot I was comfortable with and got it to fall."

Wade called the win "much-needed," an apt assessment for a team that two weeks ago was 21-13 and second in the Eastern Conference. In the midst of a difficult stretch where they'll play 11 of 12 away from American Airlines Arena, Monday's win could act as a springboard for a team that, when healthy, could contend for an Eastern Conference title.

Their health improved Monday, as Luol Deng returned from a brief absence after suffering an eye injury last week, scoring nine points. Beno Udrih was back in the lineup after missing four games, providing some stability at the point in the absence of Dragic. Whiteside's injury isn't considered serious, and Dragic should be back this week, meaning the Heat will be back at full-strength sooner than later as they attempt to make up ground they've lost while dealing with an undermanned roster.

"It’s the NBA. That’s the deal. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves," Spoelstra said. "The league keeps on moving, games keep on coming and you have to be able to respond to it. Ultimately these times can toughen you and you can grow from it if you approach it the right way.

"Our guys have been approaching it, but we need to play better basketball. Guys will be coming back soon enough; we see the light at the end of the tunnel."

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.