Heat surge in fourth to pull away from ailing Bulls


Heat surge in fourth to pull away from ailing Bulls

Duct tape can only hold a team together but for so long, as the Bulls were faced with a daunting task of going against a rested Miami Heat squad while being on the back end of a grueling back-to-back set.

With no Derrick Rose and no Jimmy Butler, the Bulls didn’t have enough star power to hold off the stalking Heat, falling back to .500 with a 118-96 loss at the United Center Friday.

Rose was a scratch with a groin strain he suffered in San Antonio, and Butler’s status is still uncertain for the moment.

And it was an old bugaboo that killed the Bulls as they held a lead for the better of two and a half quarters but as the final score indicated, they couldn’t hold onto it, nor could they keep it close when things started going in the opposite direction.

“Guys are doing their best,” said center Pau Gasol. “At the end of the day, we’re playing against some good teams that have good rhythms, that are healthier than us and especially in the fourth quarters, we can’t keep up.”

More turnovers did the trick, as they have it away 18 times and appeared to start a new streak of giving up 100 points in games.

“It started with us not taking care of the basketball,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That has to stop if we want any chance of going on a run this last half of the schedule.”

After Goran Dragic kept the Bulls in it early, with wizardly layups and creative drives to the basket, the rest of the Heat joined the party, and the party was over for the Bulls who were buoyed early by the likes of Justin Holiday and Gasol.

Dragic scored 26 with nine assists, hitting 10 of 16 field goals and being a plus-26 while on the floor.

Gasol scored 17 with 12 rebounds and nine assists but also had six turnovers, the biggest single culprit as no other Bull had more than two. Holiday hounded Dwyane Wade, who was playing with an injured shoulder, and scored 24 points in 38 minutes.

“We were in it, we played hard,” said Taj Gibson, who scored 13 points with six rebounds in 24 minutes. “We were a couple plays away from making big things happen. We kept fighting, kept playing but it got out of hand late.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Heat got hot and the Bulls ran out of gas late—along with good players.

Joe Johnson got cooking again, a chief reason why many feel the Heat can give more than a cursory challenge to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a NBA Finals berth, scoring 15 in 28 efficient, low-maintenance minutes.

An alley-oop from Luol Deng to Hassan Whiteside took all the air out of the floor and seemingly the building as the Bulls had no fight left. Deng spearheaded the decisive 26-4 run that took an 84-83 Heat lead to 110-87 with 3:52 left. In a stretch, he hit a wing triple to put them up 91-85, followed by a steal and then an inside basket, two of Miami’s 62 points in the paint.

It didn’t hurt the Miami Heat franchise has found a jewel in guard Josh Richardson, a second round pick who’s begun to find his way in the last month. Richardson hit four triples and scored 22 points in 31 minutes off the bench, outperforming Aaron Brooks, who went just four of 12 and often found himself running into Whiteside in the paint, who altered or blocked his shot altogether.

“We started turning over the ball, we lost a lot of possessions which resulted in them running out and getting wide open layups and three’s,” Hoiberg said. “Especially in the fourth quarter when they went on a run. It snowballed and went in the wrong direction.”

Deng scored 19 with six rebounds while Whiteside obliterated the interior with 13 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots.

To say the Bulls provided little resistance on the defensive end was a mild understatement, as the game looked like an instant replay of their earlier meeting in Miami that saw the Heat put up 129 points.

The Heat didn’t quite get there this time, but shooting 62 percent from three and 52 percent overall was more than enough to pull away when things got tight.

Aggressive defenses have their way with the Bulls, and Friday was no exception as the Heat followed the playbook established by the Rockets, Bucks and San Antonio Spurs.

“Last night was a product of our guys bringing the ball down and trying to squeeze it in small places,” Hoiberg said. “Tonight, same thing. They converge, they have strong hands and are physical, and we can’t put ourselves in that position.”

Again, the Bulls didn’t themselves no favors on the other end, forcing just eight turnovers and their only saving grace was Wade being unable to get himself going and forcing the action early to kill their momentum.

But the Heat kept stalking the Bulls and as their best talent was in suits or any other place besides a uniform, it became quick work as the Bulls squandered an opportunity to take advantage of a Pistons loss in Charlotte.

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury


Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

The NBA may have lost another top superstar due to injury.

On Friday, Jimmy Butler appeared to have suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee. He left the game against the Houston Rockets unable to put any pressure on his right leg and needed assistance getting back to the locker room. 

Here's a video of the incident:

Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Butler will have an MRI when the team returns to Minnesota on Saturday.

Butler drew a lot of headlines last weekend after not playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Entering Friday, Butler led the league with 37.3 minutes played per game.

The Bulls also take on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night.

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.