Bulls

10 observations: Vučević struggles as Heat rout Bulls

Bulls

The Chicago Bulls entered Saturday missing eight players – seven due to health and safety protocols, and one, in Patrick Williams, due to long-term injury rehab.

The Miami Heat, meanwhile, were without Jimmy Butler (tailbone contusion), Bam Adebayo (thumb surgery rehab), Caleb Martin (protocols) and Markieff Morris (whiplash).

What ensued was a 118-92 Heat victory – shorthanded or no, an uninspiring result for the now 17-10 Bulls.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Heat tied a franchise record with 22 made 3-pointers in their win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, which they achieved without Butler or Adebayo. 

On Saturday, they went 9-for-14 from behind the arc in the first 12 minutes en route to a 39-point first quarter. A buzzer-beating long-ball from Tyler Herro gave the Heat a 14-point lead entering the second, but Kyle Lowry (3-for-3) and always-dangerous Duncan Robinson (3-for-4) did the most damage.

2. By the 7:42 mark of the second period, though, the Bulls had trimmed their deficit to 43-38. Zach LaVine scored nine points in a 3 minute, 18 second flurry to make that run possible – a spurt which, at the time, gave him 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting (3-for-3 from 3-point range) in 15 minutes. 

Miami expended a lot of energy throwing two defenders at LaVine at every opportunity, making his aggression attacking one-on-one opportunities, and his success on catch-and-shoot and one-dribble jumpers, all the more imperative. At the half, the Bulls trailed 65-52, but LaVine had 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting, 5-for-6 from 3-point land. The team was plus-2 in LaVine’s 19 first-half minutes, but minus-15 in the five minutes he sat. That’s about as much as one can put a team on their back. 

 

The game got away from the Bulls in the second half, but LaVine did submit his eighth 30-point outing of the season with 33 points on 11-for-20 shooting, 7-for-11 from deep.

3. This one adds another brutal chapter to what’s been a rocky season for Nikola Vučević. On a night the Bulls sorely needed him to look his All-Star self, Vučević missed his first four field-goal attempts, and committed a costly turnover (a fumbled entry pass which led to a Max Strus 3 at the other end) during a 10-0 Heat run that erased the progress the Bulls made in the opening minutes of the second quarter and put Miami ahead 53-38.

Vučević later buried a 3-pointer, but entered the half with just five points on 1-for-5 shooting. He opened the third quarter with an in-rhythm midrange make, but went on to shoot 2-for-8 from the field in that quarter, entering the fourth with the same shooting line he had in the first half against Cleveland: 3-for-13. By night’s end he’d amassed just 10 points and eight rebounds, shooting 3-for-15 from the floor.

Multiple of those misses came on point-blank floaters (he shot 0-for-5 in the paint), others came on open jumpers – both familiar themes this season. And making matters worse, Vučević’s counterpart, Dewayne Dedmon, completely outplayed him, notching a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double on efficient 8-for-13 shooting, 2-for-2 from distance.

Vučević said after the game he’s “never been through a slump like this,” and that he doesn’t have an explanation for what’s going on with his shot. Both he and Billy Donovan thought his diet of looks were makeable, but needless to say, the Bulls need more from him, especially given how shorthanded they’re currently playing. 

Vučević is well aware of that dynamic.

“I’m coming up short for my teammates,” he said. “And that’s the most frustrating part.”

4. Lonzo Ball, too, could have provided more. He started strong with nine points and a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter, but finished the game 5-for-15 from the floor – 4-for-12 from long range – and with three assists against five turnovers. Donovan said after the game that, without DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls need Ball to drive downhill more and look to score or draw help to open up passing opportunities.

5. Conversely, the Heat’s third-best player, Kyle Lowry, stepped up in the absence of Butler and Adebayo. In addition to burying four 3s and scoring 16 points, he picked the Bulls’ defense apart for 14 assists and swiped two steals defensively.

 

Robinson tallying a season-high 26 points with five back-breaking 3s qualifies as a secondary offensive option rising to the occasion as well.

6. Losing the bench-points battle was a theme before the Bulls’ slew of protocol entries, but it’s been exacerbated by the events of the last week; in this one, the Heat’s reserves outscored the Bulls’ by a whopping 40-18 margin. Tyler Herro, who didn’t play in these teams’ first meeting, was the head of the second-string snake, scoring 17 points and canning three triples.

7. The Heat ended the night with 19 made 3-pointers and a 44.2 percent 3-point percentage – figures that typically prove insurmountable. But the Bulls nearly matched them in the long-range shooting category, going 17-for-40 (42.5 percent) in their own right.

The difference offensively was in the ball-security and finishing departments. The Heat scored 22 points off 16 Bulls turnovers in this one, while the Bulls finished play with a season-low 22 points in the paint. They shot an abysmal 14-for-43 (32.6 percent) inside the 3-point arc.

8. Donovan inserted Troy Brown Jr. and Alex Caruso into the starting lineup in place of the protocol-interned Derrick Jones Jr. and Ayo Dosunmu. Recent 10-day signee Alfonzo McKinnie was the first man off the bench. In the minutes that mattered, Donovan ran an eight-man rotation, with Alize Johnson, Marko Simonović and Tyler Cook the odd men out.

9. Caruso returned after two games on the shelf with a right hamstring strain. He didn’t appear to be all the way back to his wrecking-ball self, and his 27 minutes were amassed with stints shorter than his typical 8-to-10 minutes per run. But he did hand out five assists and shoot 2-for-3 from 3-point range.

10. The Bulls have now lost two straight games – each by 20-plus points. Some may argue that’s excusable, but don’t expect Donovan to do the same.

While having DeRozan, Dosunmu, Javonte Green, Jones Jr., Coby White, Matt Thomas and Stanley Johnson (who was just signed on Thursday) in protocols is undoubtedly devastating, the Heat were without their two best players, and the Bulls still had LaVine, Vučević and Ball. This level of trouncing, which saw the benches empty at the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, leaves a sour taste for a group that’s flashed the ceiling of a contender.

Next up: Back home for a get-right opportunity against the 4-21 Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

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