Bulls

Familiar foes Bulls, Heat have mutual respect

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Familiar foes Bulls, Heat have mutual respect

MIAMI -- Always, said Joakim Noah, when asked about facing a familiar foe Friday night, the defending-champion Heat.

Its always big to play here, continued the center, who will return to action after a one-game absence, due to flu-like symptoms. Its going to be fun.

I dont think its just another team in the East. Theyre very good, we want to compete against the best and its always a battle, so its going to be exciting.

Thats an understatement. Obviously the Bulls arent considered an elite team by observers this season, partially due to Derrick Roses recovery from ACL surgery, as well as the departure of the majority of the Bench Mob, but that doesnt mean Miami isnt taking them seriously.

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They still have that Chicago Bulls fabric and toughness. They just grind. I think the fact their fifth in the Eastern Conference right now with the MVP out shows you the character of the team. Theyve had a lot of changes, their bench looks totally different and yet, they still find a way -- even after tough losses -- they find a way just to grind, stay in there and win enough games to get them right in the middle of the pack of that Eastern Conference, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after his teams morning shootaround. Theyre a dangerous team, and theyre mentally and physically tough enough to win in any building, and we know that, regardless of Rose being out, bench looking different, you know how theyre going to play, so its going to be an extremely physical, competitive game, likely will be close. It doesnt matter which building -- here or in Chicago -- and well have to earn it, and well have to play a complete, 48-minute game.

Reigning league MVP LeBron James concurred: We understand what Chicago brings. They bring a lot of size, a lot of physical play. Their defensive intensity makes you focus even more on your offense, your ball movement.

The respect is mutual, as the Bulls have gone toe-to-toe with the Heat frequently over the past two seasons and while they havent always come out on top, virtually every game has been a dogfight. But just because Miami has a title under its belt now, not to mention adding the likes of sharpshooter Ray Allen during free agency, dont expect the Bulls to defer to their rival, although theyre wary of the champions firepower.

Theyve added a significant player in Ray Allen, so the three-point shooting, its always been big, but its even bigger now, so their offense is spectacular. They added a lot to their team and they won the championship last year, so their depth makes them even more dangerous, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. A guy like Ray Allen is a big shot-maker late in the game, LeBron James continues to get better, Dwyane Wade is healthy again, Chris Bosh sort of fills in whatever needs they have for whatever particular game theyre playing. His skill sets unique; put him at the five, they can out-quick you up and down the floor. Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, those guys are great role players. Mario Chalmers is a guy who sort of flies under the radar, another great role player. So, its a team thats very well put together.

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Chimed in Noah, when asked about countering Miamis small-ball approach -- Bosh plays center now, something he previously resisted in his career -- something theyve used extensively since switching to it last postseason: Rebounding, defense, try to give them the least amount of opportunities in transition because when they start playing that fast-tempo, transition game theyre pretty much unstoppable, so its on us to try to slow them down as much as possibleIve never faced it before, so well have to wait and see, see what it looks like, but theyre obviously very talented, they spread the floor very well, theyve got great shooters and they have great talent, but they still post up a lot with LeBron, so they have a lot of offensive firepower.

For Miamis part, they aren't taking the Bulls for granted and even without Rose in the lineup, the Eastern Conference squad thats given them the fiercest battles over the last two seasons is still must-see TV.

Ive seen them. Ive watched them -- a lot -- and the adjustments theyve made, theyve kind of went away from the pick-and-roll theyve done in the past with D-Rose being such a good pick-and-roll player, to a lot of catch-and-shoot, using Joakim at the high post because hes such a great passer and a facilitator, James explained. Also getting the ball into Luols hands, as well, because hes a really good offensive player, as well, so they do a good job of getting everybody involved in their offense, not having their MVP out there.

Bosh added: They all play a certain type of way. They play physical basketball and we pride ourselves on being able to play a bunch of different styles, and they present a unique challenge. They play a lot of good team ball. They have a very unique defense, where they really try to slow the pace down a little bit, so we just have to make sure we play sure our game. Usually, the team that plays their game, where theyre in their comfort zone, is the aggressor and we want to play our style of basketball.

Its always a challenge as a player, putting everything to the test, putting your skills to the test, intensity, focus. A national-TV game, of course. We know the energys going to be great and to be able to just showcase your talent, both team-wise and individually, its always a good time, he continued. We know how they play. Theyre going to crash the boards, its going to be physical. You know theyre a paint team, they want to get down there and get in the paint.

Wade concurred: Its a competitive team and we enjoy playing competitive games, and this team is very competitive and theyre physical, whatever they let the game be called. For us, were just going to continue to try to play our game and well see what happens from there, but I think the Bulls are a team who I think surprised a lot of guys early on without D-Rose and making some offseason moves, and still be the team we became accustomed to. When you talk about defensively, rebounding the ball, theyre still that team and a very tough team to play, a gritty team, so theyve got some very good wins, especially on the road, and weve got to come out and protect home court.

Even Bulls players you wouldnt necessarily think of immediately -- veteran guards Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich, for instance -- are on Miamis radar.

Theyre two good NBA players. Rip is a world champion and hes done so many great things in this league, James said. Kirk has always been solid, no matter where hes been. His first stint in Chicago, in Atlanta and now back in Chicago, hes been really good, not only for the team hes been on, but for this league. We respect everyone.

Wade added: Rip is one of those guys, since Ive came in the league, Ive had multiple battles with. You play guys in the Eastern Conference Finals and youre going to have those war marks, war wounds, and weve had that, so weve had many battles, but I respect Rip as a player and what hes been able to do consistently in this league from that standpoint. So, he brings the best out of me and I feel I do the same.

One things for sure: Miami is a game that every opponent gets up for, but unlike other opponents, the Heat will be equally ready for the Bulls. That said, the visitors to American Airlines Arena want to maintain the same approach thats served them so well during Thibodeaus tenure.

Thats why you want to build the right habits, so you dont want to change your approach for any game. You want to be consistent, you want to do the same things to get ready for an opponent: know them well, know what youre trying to get to, analyze their strengths and weaknesses and then, you have to go out and execute, the coach said. Its the next game and again, from the start of the season, we didnt want to change. We wanted our approach to improve every day, get better and hopefully be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, and be healthy.

Player Preview: Kris Dunn's growth critical for his, Bulls' future

Player Preview: Kris Dunn's growth critical for his, Bulls' future

Player: Kris Dunn
Position: Point guard
Year: 3rd
17-18 stats: 13.4 points, 6.0 assists, 2.0 steals

Outlook: Kris Dunn’s unexpected leap turned out to be one of the most delightful surprises of the 2017-18 season for the Bulls. As part of the Jimmy Butler draft night trade, many wondered if he was more an object of the front office’s affection than a future centerpiece at the game’s deepest position.

What he showed was a competitiveness and growing confidence that was stifled in his rookie season under the harsh hand of Tom Thibodeau. Once he took command as a starter over Jerian Grant, he never looked back and many can attribute the Bulls’ best stretch of the season to Dunn’s energy.

Now, entering his third year he’s firmly in the “good but not great” category, a no-man’s land spot of sorts for a front office that may have to make a long-term decision on Dunn following the season. The Bulls can lock him up to an extension next summer or allow him to go into restricted free agency following his fourth season.

While that seems to be eons away and Dunn certainly has time to keep moving on the trajectory he started hitting last season, the upcoming year will still be critical as he’ll have the on-floor responsibility of making an awkward but talented group mesh with a full season of Zach LaVine and the addition of Jabari Parker.

Fred Hoiberg has the toughest job of all, but Dunn has to bring whatever gameplan Hoiberg employs to life—and considering the run he was on before his unfortunate fall against the Golden State Warriors that caused him to miss valuable time, he’ll want to reclaim that spot and keep pressing forward.

Defensively, he can be a problem on the ball for opposing point guards and that’s his strongest suit.

Offensively, he may have to spend more time off the ball with LaVine able to create opportunities and Parker having the ability to create his own shot as easy as anyone on the roster. Many times last season he was the lone shot creator on the floor and thus could dictate the offense without having his lack of 3-point shooting be exploited by way of defenses shrinking the floor.

Shooting 29.6 percent from 3 via the catch-and-shoot variety has to improve if this lineup has any chance of working offensively, otherwise teams will sag away from Dunn to help on LaVine, Parker and Lauri Markkanen.

But Dunn has been good on the screen-and-roll, especially with Markkanen and realized very early the key to his own success would be largely tied to getting Markkanen great shots in the flow of the offense.

That responsibility still stands but the focus slightly shifts due to the roster construction and one wonders if the makeup will allow for all its young players to grow at a similar pace without conflict.

Dunn could be the face of the test case.

NBA Buzz: Dwyane Wade's legacy gets one final chapter in Miami

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Dwyane Wade's legacy gets one final chapter in Miami

In case you missed it over the weekend, Chicago-area native Dwyane Wade announced he would return to the Miami Heat for one final season. It will be Wade's 16th season since being drafted 5th overall by Miami in 2003 (the Bulls were planning to draft him at  No. 7), and his place in NBA history is secure.

Wade enters the 2018-19 season ranked 31st on the all-time scoring list with 22,082 points and could pass three or four more players before he's done. Among shooting guards, Wade ranks 7th all-time in scoring, but when you consider all of his accomplishments, the former Richards H.S. (Oak Lawn) star deserves to be included among the 20 greatest players in NBA history, and probably the 4th best shooting guard behind only Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West.

In his retirement video, Wade talked about being an overlooked prospect in high school, not making the varsity at Richards until his junior year. Academic concerns reduced the number of Division I schools that were seriously recruiting Wade and he made a commitment to Marquette early in his senior year.

After sitting out one season as a Prop 48 recruit, Wade quickly established himself as one of the nation's elite guards, carrying Marquette to the Final Four in 2003. Still, concerns about his outside shooting ability and in-between size at 6-foot-3 had Wade initially projected to go somewhere between 10 and 15 in the NBA draft.

It was during the private workout process that Wade showed NBA talent evaluators just how special he could be at the pro level, and he began to fly up draft boards. Heat coach Pat Riley originally wanted to add a big man like Chris Kaman with the 5th pick, but after Wade wowed Heat officials in a workout, Riley was convinced to change his mind, ushering in a new era of winning basketball for the franchise.

Wade teamed with Shaquille O'Neal to bring Miami its first NBA championship in 2006. Wade was magnificent in the Finals against Dallas, averaging 34.7 points per game, to earn MVP honors.

Bulls fans know all too well what happened in 2010. Wade took two free agent meetings with the Bulls and by all accounts was close to committing to a Chicago homecoming. But after returning to Miami to think things over, Wade eventually decided to team up with good friends LeBron James and Chris Bosh in South Florida, a partnership that led to four straight Finals appearances and two more championships.

Wade did eventually put on a Bulls’ jersey for the 2016-2017 season, averaging 18.3 points during an uneven 41-41 season that ended with the Bulls blowing a 2-0 lead in an opening round playoff series against Boston. Wade eventually negotiated a buyout on the second year of the contract he signed with the Bulls, and played half a season with James in Cleveland before returning to his beloved Miami at the trade deadline in February.

Numbers alone don't tell the story of Wade's brilliance as an NBA player. He's always been adept at getting to the free throw line, and he's the top shot blocker among guards all-time. Wade willingly sacrificed his offensive game during the prime of his career to let James thrive in Miami, and he's also played point guard at times to showcase his skills as a facilitator.

Other shooting guards have scored more points than Wade, including Reggie Miller, Ray Allen and Clyde Drexler, but none of those players have won as much as Wade or had a bigger impact on the teams they played on.

Some Bulls fans were unhappy about the way Wade left his hometown team, basically taking about $38 million of the franchise's money for one season on the court. But the Bulls were committed to a rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler in the summer of 2017, and it made little sense for Wade to be taking away minutes from younger players the coaching staff needed to develop.

Wade seemed to be rejuvenated by returning to South Florida last season, and he'll be honored in every NBA city as he goes through his farewell tour this season. The Heat will play at the United Center on November 23 and January 19, and you can bet there will be a lot of friends, former teammates and members of the extended Wade family on hand for his final appearance.

The skinny, under-recruited kid from Robbins shocked the basketball world by developing into one of the greatest shooting guards of all-time. He's also a world-wide celebrity and business mogul. So, even though Wade didn’t wear the Bulls' uniform until he was past his prime, Chicago basketball fans should salute him for one of the more unlikely success stories the league has ever seen.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION PREVIEW

Wade figures to have few turn back the clock games in a limited role for the Heat this season, and Miami should be good enough to get back to the playoffs next spring as a 7 or 8 seed.

Here's how the Southeast should stack up this season.

1. Wizards: Unless free agent addition Dwight Howard continues his run of ruining every franchise he’s joined since leaving Orlando, Washington should be the class of the division. Led by All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards have enough offensive firepower to win about 43-48 games this season.

Otto Porter is an underrated shooter at the small forward position, and the frontline of Porter, Markieff Morris and Howard should be pretty solid. Question is, can Washington get enough production from the bench unit of Kelly Oubre, Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, Tomas Satoransky and Ian Mahinmi to stay afloat when the inevitable injuries hit?

2. Heat: Pat Riley went against the grain in the summer of 2017 by giving big contracts to hard-working, but non-star players like James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington instead of trying to free up cap space to chase a superstar. As a result, the Heat are capped out with a solid, but unspectacular roster.

Led by All-Star guard Goran Dragic, Waiters and underachieving center Hassan Whiteside, Miami should be good enough to hold on to a playoff position in the East, but if the Heat get off to a slow start, look for Riley to pursue trades to try to clean up the cap situation for a run at one of the elite free agents in the 2019 class.

3. Hornets: Michael Jordan decided to clean house after missing the playoffs last season, firing coach Steve Clifford and GM Rich Cho in favor of Spurs assistant James Borrego and fellow North Carolina alum Mitch Kupchak.

Problem is, the talent on the floor hasn't really been upgraded, although the Hornets did draft a couple intriguing prospects the last 2 years in Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. All-Star point guard Kemba Walker will be a free agent next summer, and wing players Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been mostly disappointing. Charlotte figures to post a mid-30's win total, leaving them a little short of playoff contention.

4. Magic: Another team looking for a fresh start, bringing Clifford in from Charlotte to try to improve the team's porous defense. Orlando added shot-blocking specialist Mo Bamba with the 5th pick in the draft, and power forward Aaron Gordon signed a near max deal to be the face of the franchise. But with ex-Bulls D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant currently penciled in to man the point guard position, it doesn't look like the Magic is ready to make a big jump this season.

5. Hawks: Safe to say, this looks like the worst roster in the league. Atlanta sports fans haven't exactly been passionate in support of this franchise, and outside of watching rookie Trae Young jack up three pointers, they don't figure to have a lot to cheer about this season. Young forwards John Collins and Taurean Prince are athletic players who will provide some high-flying highlights, but it's pretty obvious the biggest day on the Hawks' calendar will be the NBA draft lottery next May.