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.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season


New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”