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.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.