Bulls gut out win in Dwyane Wade's return to Miami

Bulls gut out win in Dwyane Wade's return to Miami

MIAMI — After the emotion, tributes, red eyes and hard stares died down, Dwyane Wade did what he often did best as a member of the Miami Heat — defer.

He did it for LeBron James for years, and in the last several minutes of his return game back to Miami, he allowed Jimmy Butler to take center stage late, as Butler helped the Bulls to a 98-95 win Thursday night at American Airlines Arena.

“Worst basketball game I’ve ever played,” Wade said, half-jokingly.

Wade had an off-night in his emotional return to Miami, scoring 13 with seven rebounds and four assists on five of 17 shooting while Butler played a supporting role for most of the night.

A quiet 40 minutes or so had Butler itching for a push late, as two jumpers gave the Bulls a six-point lead midway through the fourth and his jumper with 53 seconds left gave the Bulls a 92-89 lead, and followed it up with two free throws to stretch the lead.

“Jimmy’s a closer,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We put the ball in his hands and he delivered for us. He was into the ball, fighting over screens, battling on the glass. It was a really efficient game.”

Wade has long said the team will run through Butler late, that he’ll get a heavy amount of touches so even on this night, it wasn’t a surprise. After a tough 39-point effort the night before in Atlanta, Butler looked a little weary for most of the night.

“I was trying to save all my energy for the fourth quarter to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “My teammates always have confidence in me.”

[RELATED: Dwyane Wade shares story of Heat's disrespect and why he left Miami for the Bulls]

Considering the way Butler and the Bulls talked about their defensive effort in their four losses, it was about time they grinded one out — especially on the road under certain circumstances.

They held the Heat to 41 percent shooting, although they gave up 13 3-pointers at a 45-percent clip. A morning film session that went through some of their most common mistakes resulted in a more solid defensive showing.

“He expects perfection,” said Butler of Hoiberg. “He told us what he wanted us to do, along with the assistant coaches and we came out and executed. I’m glad we got this especially for D-Wade.”

But Wade wasn’t about to just let the night end without having some affect on the game. After a triple pushed the Heat within two, Wade was fouled by Justice Winslow — or embellished contact in front of the officials to get the benefit of the doubt — and hit two free throws to effectively ice the game.

“I get fouled a lot, so I don’t care,” Wade said. “I got the vet call and I appreciated them for giving me one.”

Butler led the Bulls with 20 while Robin Lopez scored 16 on a career-high 20 shot attempts. Rajon Rondo awoke from a slumber to hit a few crucial buckets, including a reverse layup when Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wanted a timeout after the Heat tied the game at 84 with less than six minutes remaining.

“I was going to call a timeout and then looked over and he had called a play. He had a really confident look on his face so I let him go,” Hoiberg said. “It started with his defense, I thought he was up the floor picking up and applying pressure.”

Rondo finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes. Heat center Hassan Whiteside had a 20-point, 20-rebound night, as he and Lopez traded blows all night long.

A game that had a hard time developing any definitive character, perhaps with the atmosphere being one of nostalgia along with the Bulls clearly having tired legs, they were going to have to drag the Heat down to their level to keep afloat.

The Bulls shot just 28 percent in the third quarter but their defense did enough to keep them in it, as they were tied at 70 with 12 minutes left. Luckily for them, they kept the Heat stymied as both teams shot 27-for-65 entering the fourth.

“That’s the way we want to play,” Butler said. “We want to be the toughest team on 50-50 balls, that’s the way we got to go.”

Neither team gathered more than an eight-point lead as the Bulls showed just enough gumption in Wade’s return to make it a happy one, even if he didn’t play the way he liked to.

As Bulls prepare for workouts, new management regime headed to Chicago

As Bulls prepare for workouts, new management regime headed to Chicago

For two men who refer to themselves as gym rats, this has been an odd time for Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley.

Hired as the respective executive vice president and general manager to lead the Bulls out of their rebuild and into a more modern NBA, they haven’t even been able to travel to Chicago because of the global pandemic.

That’s about to change.

Karnisovas and Eversley, who have been working remotely daily and diving deep into evaluation of all things Bulls, are scheduled to travel to Chicago in the near future, according to a team spokesperson. Their arrival coincides with a phased re-opening of the Advocate Center, which the Bulls have advanced in conjunction with state and local government officials and infectious disease specialists at Rush University Medical Center.

In compliance with NBA guidelines, the Bulls opened the Advocate Center for players seeking treatment and medical issues. Lauri Markkanen, who recently from a pelvis ailment four games before the league's hiatus, and Kris Dunn, who sprained his MCL Feb. 1, have utilized the facility for treatment purposes.

Voluntary, socially distanced workouts with coaches are scheduled to begin Wednesday, which is when Mayor Lightfoot has said Chicago will enter “Phase 3” of a five-stage plan to re-open the city.

Gov. Pritzker moved the state of Illinois to “Phase 3” on Friday. The Bulls have been in talks with officials at both the state and local levels to follow safety guidelines.

“We are supportive of the Mayor’s decision and are aligning our plans with the directive of her office,” a team spokesperson said.

Few players are currently in the Chicago area. With the league set to have a conference call with team owners on Friday to continue discussing return-to-play plans, the Bulls could have clarity next week on whether they’ll be invited to the league’s restart in Orlando.

Either way, those players who want to will be able to work out with coaches at the Advocate Center starting Wednesday. The Advocate Center remains closed to non-essential staff and media until further notice.

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Why the Bulls are better off not being invited to the NBA bubble

Why the Bulls are better off not being invited to the NBA bubble

Coby White could deliver some mojo again. Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen could continue their progress after returning from injuries. Zach LaVine, well, could be Zach LaVine.

There would certainly be basketball-related benefits if the Bulls wind up one of the teams invited to conclude the NBA’s 2019-20 season in Orlando, Fla.

Having the new management regime watch players in live action and avoiding a nine-month layoff between games should the league begin the 2020-21 season on Christmas Day (as the current scuttlebutt says), represent a few.

But all those positives pale to one significant potential drawback, safety concerns (of which there are many) aside: jeopardizing the Bulls’ draft lottery position.

With the league set for another Board of Governors call on Friday as it nears proposing a suggested return-to-play policy, finalizing the format for the draft lottery is one of many fluid situations. Nothing is yet guaranteed other than — bad joke alert — the Bulls drafting seventh.

Indeed, when COVID-19 shut down the sports world in mid-March, the Bulls ranked seventh in the draft lottery standings. That translates to a 32 percent chance at a top-four pick and a 7.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick. 

And while that doesn’t translate to a 100 percent chance at the seventh pick… Man. That the Bulls currently sit No. 7 — where they have drafted White, Wendell Carter Jr. and acquired the rights to Markkanen over the last three drafts — feels twistedly poetic.

Simply put, weak draft or not, a higher pick is more beneficial to the new front office regime than some fluky playoff run. Sorry, Jim Boylen.

Think about it: Say the league invites the top 24 teams to Orlando and the Bulls, currently 12th in the Eastern Conference, make the trip. The best case scenario? The Bulls get hot, build up a bit of good will and, who knows, maybe even advance a round. But their long-term fates don’t change. And if the NBA eventually models a revised lottery formula for this season in a manner similar to the NHL — which awards lottery odds to teams excluded from their play-in round, and teams that are eliminated in the play-in round, regardless of regular season standing — it could hurt their chances at a higher pick significantly, if not erase them entirely.

To be clear, there is currently no indication of the NBA molding its own lottery formula after the NHL’s. In fact, there is nothing concrete on that front to report at all. 

Still, for a team mired in a rebuild that needs to maximize its assets, the above would not be a good development.

And all of that’s without mentioning the flipside of a potential trip to Disney World for the Bulls. What if more than a month of potentially high-risk travel and training to retake the floor results in a quick flameout — or merely a handful of meaningless regular season games? Any evaluation that could be conducted over that period, which would be colored by the unprecedented circumstances at hand, simply isn’t worth the cost.

So be careful what you wish for, Bulls fans. Yes, everybody is starved for basketball. And, yes, the Bulls were supposed to be done tanking a while ago.

But this is one time when not getting invited to the party could be a good thing.

RELATED: Where the Bulls stand in each of the NBA’s reported resumption plans 

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