Bulls

NBA trade deadline winners and losers

NBA trade deadline winners and losers

AN ARENA NEAR YOU –  The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, so the rosters you see now are pretty much what you're going to see for the rest of the season. 
 
Of course there will be some teams that will bolster their roster via buyout candidates, but most of those players will have a very defined and to a greater extent, limited role with whatever new team they sign with for the rest of this season. 
 
So who were the winners and losers during this now-completed trade season?
 
Our CSN Insiders examine which franchises really cleaned up during the trade season, and which teams got taken to the cleaners in addition to looking at a few teams that struck gold during the buyout season as well as some that stood pat and why that was a good – or not so good – idea.
 
We start off North of the border where Toronto pulled off a pair of trades that in the eyes of many league executives and coaches, probably addressed their biggest needs going forward and should solidify them as a top-four team in the East with the potential now to go as high as the number two spot. 
 
CSN New England's A. Sherrod Blakely takes a closer look at the Raptors deal, how it paid off almost immediately and what it means for the Eastern Conference going forward:
 
TRADE DEADLINE WINNERS
 
Toronto Raptors

By adding Serge Ibaka, the Raptors were able to address the increasingly obvious need for them to upgrade their power forward position. Ibaka was traded from Oklahoma City to Orlando because they didn't want to pay him a near-max salary this summer. And the Magic, realizing he wasn't a good fit for them going forward, cut ties just months after acquiring him. 
 
Playing with the Raptors has Ibaka in a familiar position, one that he enjoyed years of success in with the Thunder. Back then, it was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's team, with Ibaka as a really good No. 3 guy. In Toronto, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are Ibaka's Durant-Westbrook all over again and that's a good thing. In his first game as a Raptor, Ibaka had 15 points and seven rebounds in Toronto's win over Boston.
 
Considering Ibaka was going to be a player Toronto planned to pursue this summer when he becomes a free agent, acquiring him now makes the Raptors the odds-on favorite to sign him. 
 
He wasn't the only new guy for Toronto that gave the Celtics problems. 
 
P.J. Tucker, acquired from the Phoenix Suns, had a near double-double against Boston with nine points and 10 rebounds. 
 
The numbers they put up help, but even more important is they provide a heightened level of toughness which multiple league executives and coaches that CSNNE.com has talked with since All-Star weekend, said was sorely lacking on their roster. 
 
If the Raptors manage to climb the Eastern Conference standings and play their way into a deep postseason run, these two trades will be seen as instrumental in making that happen. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
 
Houston Rockets

The Rockets bolstered their playoff push in a single trade by landing former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams from the Lakers. They sent Corey Brewer and a first round pick to Los Angeles in the deal. Williams gives the Rockets another high-scoring guard to complement James Harden and Eric Gordon. The addition of Williams' instant spark off the bench can make a difference in the grind of a postseason series. – by Jessica Camerato 

Los Angeles Lakers
 
They traded their most effective player, sixth man Lou Williams, for a player (Corey Brewer) and Houston's unprotected No. 1 draft pick. The biggest upside might be that the loss of Williams makes LA an even weaker team and therefore improves its own draft positioning. If the Lakers continue on the lottery-bound path they are on, it would mark the fourth consecutive season they will have a lottery (Top 14) selection. – by Monte Poole  
 
Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC needed a shake up if they had any hope of making noise in the postseason. They traded two young players in Joffrey Lauvergne and Cameron Payne, along with veteran Anthony Morrow to the Bulls for Doug McDermott, Taj Gibson and a second-round pick. 

McDermott instantly improves the small forward position for Oklahoma, giving them a high end shooting option for Russell Westbrook to kick to. Gibson is a solid veteran big that defends and rebounds either as a starter or off the bench. 

The Thunder gave up two young pieces in the deal, but they are in "win now" mode as they try to move up in the Western Conference standings. And while there were certainly more high profile moves made at the trade deadline, the Thunder can now set their sights on being more than just a team in the playoffs. These additions give them the kind of depth that's required in the postseason to potentially knock off a higher-seeded team. – by James Ham
 
Orlando Magic
 
If you factor in all that the Magic gave up to acquire Serge Ibaka, only to trade him away for a good but not great player in Terrence Ross, there's not a lot to like about the deal, right?
 
Not true. 
 
Trading away Ibaka on many levels was a classic example of addition by subtraction.
 
The trade of Ibaka has allowed the Magic to play Aaron Gordon at his correct position at power forward.
 
The glut of forwards/centers had coach Frank Vogel trying to force Gordon to play at small forward which didn't suit his strengths. He lacks the ball-handling and shooting to make that a natural transition.
 
"Everybody is now in their right position," Vogel said. "Aaron being a four is better for him. He did well at the three defensively, but he's better at the four." – by J. Michael
 
Golden State Warriors
 
They took calls but made none of their own. The Warriors own the league's best record, its No. 1 offense and its No. 1 defensive rating. They have no glaring needs. They may explore the buyout market if there is an intriguing candidate, but there is zero urgency. – by Monte Poole
 
Washington Wizards

The addition of Bojan Bogdanovic isn't the sexiest deal to be swung during this trade season, but it meets what has clearly been one of Washington's biggest weaknesses – depth. 
 
Specifically, Washington needed to add a scorer off the bench which is exactly what Bogdanovic has the skills and talent to provide. 
 
The Wizards haven't ruled out another move in the free-agent market to help with the bench with a possible playoff run looming.
 
Trey Burke hasn't been adequate as John Wall's backup, Tomas Satoransky might not be ready for the role yet and Kelly Oubre hasn't done the job behind Otto Porter.

The next move, if there is one, could be for the best player available but a creator with the second unit is desperately needed. – by J. Michael
 
LOSERS

 
Sacremento Kings

The Sacramento Kings hit a hard reset button on All-Star Sunday, dealing center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for a package that included rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a first and second round pick.

Sacramento received below market value for their franchise cornerstone and started a youth movement that was long overdue. They now have four first round picks from the 2016 NBA Draft and potentially two first round picks in the highly touted 2017 NBA draft. 

The Kings sat just a game-and-a-half out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff chase at the time of the move. They have been raked over the coals in the media for their handling of Cousins, including making promises to not only keep the star big, but hand him a $219 million extension this summer. They chose to reboot the franchise, calling for an improved culture. – by James Ham
 
Philadelphia 76ers
 
They had a cluster-you-know-what in the frontcourt with too many bodies, and they managed to clear it out a bit by trading Nerlens Noel to Dallas for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a heavily protected 2017 first-round pick. 

But that in itself doesn't make this a good deal. 
 
In fact, it was one of the worst deals made at the trade deadline and here's why:
 
They knew Bogut would seek a buyout immediately, so whatever benefit he could have provided in terms of his play, was out the window. 
 
Move along to Anderson, a late first-round pick in 2015 who has shown signs of being a 3-and-D kind of player. He's a solid addition, but Noel is a better player and has significantly more upside. 
 
But the saving grace is the draft pick right? 
 
Nope. 
 
The pick will likely wind up being a second-rounder this year and in 2020.
 
So just to recap: Philly gave away a starter in Noel, and in return they wind up with a wing player who may play his way into the regular rotation eventually along with a pair of second round future draft picks. Knowing this deal will make the Sixers a weaker team, it's almost like Sam Hinkie never left. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
 
Los Angeles Clippers
 
Their pursuit of another wing shooter came up empty, as did their perpetual search for a legitimate small forward. On the other hand, as a group that has been crippled by injuries to key players, they're happy to have a healthy starting five now that Chris Paul is back and effective. – by Monte Poole

New York Knicks
 
So, the Knicks are all still there. Between Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, at points leading up to the deadline it seemed like a player could be on the move. In the end, the team remained intact. No better, no worse, just the same. Which in this season, the same isn't necessarily the best outcome.

New York needed to make a move to shake up a roster that's once again underachieving. No one expected the Knicks to be among the top three or four clubs, but they were seen at the very least as a legit playoff contender. Of course there's still time for them to get back in the postseason picture. But with all the drama surrounding this team, it's unlikely their direction will change anytime soon which means another season ending without a playoff berth – by Jessica Camerato

Boston Celtics
 
This team has been fireworks-in-waiting for years now, seemingly on the cusp of a big deal that ultimately turns into a big dud. It's hard to be critical of a team that has endured as many injuries as they have this season and still find themselves in second place behind the NBA defending champion. 
 
Because of their lofty position, the Celtics' focus was primarily on landing a major player like Chicago's Jimmy Butler or Indiana's Paul George. 
 
The Celtics struck out on both of those guys and wound up keeping their current roster intact.
 
Adding insult to injury, two players – Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker – were both players Boston was in the mix for in terms of signing only to get serious love from Toronto, which traded for both players. When the Celtics opened their post All-Star break portion of the schedule in Toronto, Ibaka and Tucker were huge factors in the game's outcome.

The Celtics did try to get in on acquiring the soon-to-be bought out Andrew Bogut only to learn that he's likely signing with Cleveland. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

BUYOUT WINNER: CLEVELAND
 
Indeed, the rich will get richer in the East with the Cavaliers on the cusp of adding both Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams who became unrestricted free agents. Bogut is nearly complete with a buyout after he was traded to Philadelphia from Dallas, while Williams was waived by the Mavericks when they could not find a partner to swing a trade for his services. 
 
With Bogut, the Cavs add one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. Injuries have limited his impact this season, but the load he'll be asked to carry is relatively small compared to what the former No. 1 overall pick has been tasked with elsewhere. 
 
As for Williams, he gives them a ready-to-roll backup point guard. When Kyrie Irving takes a rest, LeBron James has often been shifted to being the primary ball-handler. But the addition of Williams gives the Cavs another choice coming off the bench of a player who has played this game for a while and has a solid understanding of how to run a team effectively. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Schroder off to rough start after All-star break

When the Hawks opted to move on from Jeff Teague, the assumption was that Dennis Schroder was ready to be the starting point guard.

Coming out of All-Star break, Schroder has served a one-game suspension for not reporting to the team on time and then was benched for the first half of the next game because he missed the team bus.
 
Going into Monday, the Hawks had a three-game losing streak by a total of 53 points.

"We continue to hold our entire roster, all of our players, accountable," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Our culture is important to us. Respect for your teammates is important to us. That's our job and that's our organization's job is to continue to build on our culture." – by J. Michael

Knicks waive Jennings, Rose next?
 
Brandon Jennings had expressed a desire to join a title-contending team.

Well he got his wish – partially anyway – when the New York Knicks waived him on Monday. The eight-year veteran will surface with another team, but the question is where?

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reports that the Knicks might also be interested in waiving Derrick Rose. The Knicks are a bad team and judging by some of the moves being made by the front office, they're not going to be better anytime soon. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

The Pecking Order: A very crazy week for the Bulls

pecking_order.jpg
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

The Pecking Order: A very crazy week for the Bulls

This has felt like a very crazy week for the Bulls. Lots going on. We’ve seen more losses in winnable games and another win over the lowly Pistons. Swirling around the game action we’ve had more injuries surface, more intriguing Jim Boylen quotes, more minutes for the “grit and toughness” squad, and more underwhelming performances from the supposed stars of the roster. To top it off, Bulls fans were hit hard in the feels on Wednesday night when the team honored recently retired Bulls legend Luol Deng at the United Center with many of his old teammates in attendance.  *Reaches for the nearest box of tissues*

I feel in need of a good long nap before we get to the weekend back-to-back. Before that nap, though, here are the biggest thoughts occupying my tired mind in Week 5 of the Bulls’ regular season. It’s the Pecking Order.

  1. I’m getting really sick of the 4th quarter collapses.

In losses to Brooklyn (sans Kyrie Irving) and Milwaukee (twice), the Bulls coughed up three more winnable games with painful collapses in the 4th quarter.  In the first of their two recent matchups, the Bucks gave the Bulls every opportunity to steal one.  Milwaukee missed a boatload of free throws (34-47).  They shot 18.2% (WHAT. EW.) from downtown and turned the ball over 22 times.  To his credit, Ryan Arcidiacono performed admirably when Jim Boylen tasked him with guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo down the stretch.  (WHAT. EW.)  Archi forced a Giannis midrange miss at the 1:35 mark and the Bulls only trailing by three.  But Lauri Markkanen, among others, failed to corral the defensive rebound and Eric Bledsoe made them pay with a second-chance bucket.  A missed Zach LaVine three on the other end and another Bledsoe bucket meant curtains for a golden chance at an impressive win against a respected opponent.

Two days later, the Bulls allowed the Nets to score 43 points in the final twelve minutes after bouncing back from an ugly start and taking leads into the 3rd and 4th quarters. The fact that 20 of Brooklyn’s 43 points in the final frame came courtesy of the recently Bulls-spurned Spencer Dinwiddie added extra pain to the evening. 

That dude can ball. 

Thank goodness we waived him to free up that roster spot for Michael Carter-Williams...Wait, what do you mean MCW isn’t leading the Bulls’ second unit with face-palming plays and bricked shots anymore? When did that happen?  (Aaaah, the “Three Alphas” season. Fun memories.)

In their second attempt to knock off Milwaukee, the Bulls again were in it late. But awful nights from Markkanen and LaVine led Boylen to leave his second unit on the floor late into the 4th. That’s something we’ve now seen several times through the first 15 games. After a Coby White three gave the Bulls a 99-98 lead with 6:23 remaining, the Bucks finished the game on a 17-2 run. Zach and Lauri checked in at the 5:04 mark, but all the supposed star duo could collectively provide was two free throws from Lauri. Zach had a bad turnover on a crucial possession, Lauri had a shot in the paint blocked by Brook Lopez, and both missed all their field goal attempts.

Yes, young teams like the Bulls usually struggle to finish close games. Yes, Lauri and Zach are underperforming. But this string of collapses in winnable games is a concerning trend. If you look at their net rating by quarter, it’s not a pretty picture. Per stats.nba.com, the Bulls are tied for 9th in the NBA with a 1st quarter net rating of +5.8. Their 2nd quarter rating of -1.2 ranks 19th, 3rd quarter rating of -4.6 also ranks 19th, and 4th quarter rating of -10.3 ranks 27th.

Jim can preach about needing to start games better, especially at home.  He can praise his guys for winning first and second quarters all he wants.  But it’s impossible to ignore the numbers. The Bulls perform worse as the games go on. Some of that is young players failing to close. It’s also an indictment on a coach who can’t adapt and make the proper in-game adjustments. But yeah, Archi sure played the Greek Freak tough! *facepalm*

 

  1.   Just when you thought we were finally going to have a healthy season…

Just kidding.  Who needs a healthy roster?  The already-limited Bulls, that’s who. But here we are, in late November, and we’re already dealing with injuries to several players. Sure, some are more important than others. Based on his poor shooting and defensive exposure before being removed from Boylen’s rotation – and the emergence of Daniel Gafford – I’m sure Bulls fans are more than fine with Luke Kornet taking all the time he needs to get those sinuses cleared out or whatever sinuses need to be good sinuses. (Making myself LOL at “good sinuses.”  What are “bad sinuses”?  Sinuses that live on the other side of the tracks and peer pressure you into skipping school?  Moving on…)

The foot injury to Otto Porter Jr. is a gigantic concern. Yes, he’s been middling at best so far this season. But in the Bulls’ first win over Detroit, you saw exactly what he can provide when healthy and playing well. We saw it immediately when he arrived via the trade with Washington last season. Now his backup, Chandler Hutchison, is dealing with “sore shins” that caused him to miss Wednesday’s game. That’s on top of the hamstring injury that held Hutch out of training camp and the first several games of the season.

Just as concerning as the injuries themselves are the vague updates we’re getting from Boylen and the Bulls’ medical staff.  Boylen recently said, “Otto's is a slow, meticulous process.  As symptoms subside, he gets better. Some days those symptoms are less, and some days they are the same as the day before. So that's where that's at.  He's working at it. He's trying. Again, this is a tough one. It's not a definitive thing. I'm sorry I don't have more answers for everyone. We're just trying to do the best we can with it."

Does anybody know how to interpret any of that?  Now we’ve also learned that Otto’s second MRI revealed a bone bruise in his foot that was “not apparent” in the first MRI.  He’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks.  Who’s got any confidence that reevaluation will bring good news?  Not this guy.

As for Hutchison, Boylen’s comments on Otto’s backup and his shins are equally confusing. But here’s a sample from Wednesday: “He’s out tonight, and that’s about as much as I can tell you. It doesn’t seem to be a quick fix; I don’t want to give you a timetable there.” Awesome. 

Did I mention that Lauri is still likely playing through an oblique injury – one the Bulls didn’t disclose until two weeks after it happened – and Coby White tweaked an ankle during warmups before the Pistons game? 

  1. Daniel Gafford is very fun to watch. 

He also appears to be more than qualified to play meaningful minutes. And not just in the G-League. (As my pal John pointed out on a recent Outsiders episode, the “G” in G-League stands for Gafford. I guess the “N” in NBA stands for daNNy duNks.)  With his breakout performance against the Bucks on Monday, Bulls fans must be wondering: 1) If Gafford was so positively affecting the game, why didn’t Boylen use him down the stretch of a winnable game?  2) If Gafford is this effective, why did it take 14 games – many of which featured an underwhelming Kornet – for Boylen to give him a chance?  And 3) What does all of this say about the talent evaluation abilities of Boylen, his staff, and everyone else in Advocate Center offices?  *Uncomfortably grabs collar*…

  1. Speaking of players who can’t get an opportunity, what on earth is going on with Denzel Valentine?

If there were ever a chance for Denzel to get out of Boylen’s doghouse and onto the court, Wednesday night was it. No Otto, no Hutchison, and a Pistons team that has one of the weakest wing depth rosters in the league. But still, no Denzel. Shaq Harrison (a guard) got the start at SF.  Ryan “I Take Charges” Arcidiacono continued his regular usage off the bench with 21 minutes. Denzel couldn’t even get onto the floor in garbage time. (That’s partly because Boylen apparently doesn’t believe in garbage time when his team is winning. See #6.)  If Boylen can’t find any minutes for Denzel in a game when the Bulls are down two wings and are up to twenty points late, when will he ever find time for him? Not to mention Denzel’s most useful ability, three-point shooting, has been one of the Bulls’ greatest weaknesses so far this season.

Why is Denzel on this roster?  If Boylen refuses to play him at all, then trade him if you can or waive him.  All you’re doing right now is wasting a roster spot.  With injuries piling up, maybe you could find somebody useful to take that spot?  But what do I know?

  1. Jim Boylen says lots of stuff.  On Wednesday night, he quoted his friend Tom Izzo.  It was weird.

After the win over Detroit, Boylen praised the efforts of Shaq Harrison in his first meaningful minutes of the season by citing a phrase coined by his friend and former colleague Tom Izzo. “P.P.T.P.W.” stands for “Players Play, Tough Players Win.”  Cool.

Shaq might embody that saying in Boylen’s mind, but he didn’t play for Izzo at Michigan State.  He played at Tulsa.

…Didn’t Denzel Valentine spend four years at Michigan State playing for Izzo?  Hmm…

  1. About the final minutes of Wednesday’s victory.

With the Bulls up 100-80 with 4:51 remaining, the following players were on the floor: Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen, Tomas Satoranský, and Shaq Harrison. The four normal starters weren’t subbed out until the 1:32 mark when Shaq remained for mop-up duty. Why did Boylen feel the need to play his primary starters for those three extra minutes when the game was already in hand? Did he feel that a Pistons comeback was still possible? I know the Bulls have given up leads in the 4th quarter several times this season, but it would’ve taken a meltdown of epic proportions to blow that lead. I’m just glad nobody got injured.

Also, I’m not sure what’s weirder: Boylen playing his starters down the stretch of a blowout or playing his second unit down the stretch of a close game. Neither is a good thing, in my humble opinion.

  1. I really enjoyed Derrick Rose’s interview with Will Perdue.

I am not the Rose Hater that Kendall Gill makes me out to be. I just don’t think it’s healthy for Bulls fans to live in the past when the rocky and worrisome present demands our full attention. That being said, you should definitely check out the interview if you haven’t already.  It’s fantastic.

  1. I felt all the feels on Luol’s big night.

Good for the Bulls for signing Luol Deng to a one-day contract to allow him to retire here, where his NBA career began and blossomed. Good for them, also, for honoring Luol during a break in the action on Wednesday night. The video tribute was great. Even better was seeing Luol hang out in the owner’s suite with former teammates Joakim Noah, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas (dunks!  LaMarcus Aldridge!), Jannero Pargo, John Lucas III (Revenge on LeBron Game!), Nazr Mohammed (LeBron Shove!) and Aaron Gray (Aaron Gray!) …like I said. All the feels. Cheers to Luol on a great career.

  1. Tomas Satoranský finally showed us something.

It wasn’t an other-worldly performance, but it’s a start. In two recent games, Sato scored the Bulls’ first five points and never scored again. His assist numbers have been mediocre, and he hasn’t looked to shoot much despite a blistering 46.3% from beyond the arc. 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 3-for-5 from deep, plus 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals is a solid night at the office. Satoranský and Boylen both spoke recently about his need to be more aggressive to help the Bulls’ struggling offense. Hopefully, his game on Wednesday was a good start.

  1. I’m excited to watch Jimmy’s new team on Friday night.

The Bulls will host another reunion on Friday when Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat visit the United Center for the final game of this homestand and the first game of a weekend back-to-back. The Heat’s fast start (10-3, currently 3rd in the East) has surprised many. They’re getting solid production from a pair of rookies, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro. But it’s Jimmy leading the way, averaging 18.7 points, 7 assists and an NBA-best 2.7 steals per game. I haven’t watched the Heat much so far this season, but I like what I’ve seen. They move the ball well and play solid defense. I’m excited to watch them on Friday night. And by excited, I mean terrified.

Thanks for reading.  Here’s hoping for a few more wins and some good news on the injury front. I also wouldn’t mind more 20-point games from Lauri. Please. For the love of God, please.

Till next time.  See red, be good.  - Peck 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

What to watch for when Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat take on the Bulls

usatsi_13691873.jpg
USA TODAY

What to watch for when Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat take on the Bulls

Friday night, Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat (10-3) visit the United Center to take on the Bulls (5-10). The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Not your mother’s Miami Heat

The Heat’s torrid 10-3 start to the season has caught much of the NBA cognoscenti by surprise — not necessarily because of their general performance, but because of a number of new  names helping lead the charge. 

Chief among that group are rookie guard Kendrick Nunn and second-year forward Duncan Robinson. Each of them have carved out spots in the team’s current starting lineup, and their play has been critical with both Jimmy Butler and Justise Winslow missing stretches early on (Winslow, along with Derrick Jones Jr., didn’t travel with the team for tonight’s game or their game in Philadelphia on Saturday). 

Nunn hit a blip at the beginning of November after a scorching hot October, but is averaging 19 points, 5.3 assists and 1.5 steals on 53.4% shooting (43.5% 3-point shooting) in his last five games. He’s a certified pest, defensively, too. Robinson, for his part, is coming off the game of his life, in which he stroked nine three pointers (seven in the second quarter) in a blowout win over Cleveland:

 

Of course, the heralded guys are performing, as well. Since returning to the team, Butler is doing Butler things — leading the team in usage, scoring and assists, while also ranking top two in the league in steals (2.7, 1st) and deflections (3.9, 2nd) per game. Goran Dragic, who’s been supplanted by Nunn, has adapted nicely to a bench role and Bam Adebayo is fast becoming one of the more dynamic two-way bigs in the league.

Offensively, the Heat are a team predicated on quick and consistent ball movement — they’re ninth in the league in passes made per game and second in assist rate. That kind of philosophy can result in turnovers, and the Heat are dead last in the NBA in that category, both in turnover rate and turnovers per game. If the Bulls’ rotations are sound, that’s an area they can capitalize in

Still, Miami is a well-coached and well-rounded squad that plays every game like it’s their last. A Bulls upset won’t come easy.

A tough defensive matchup

Miami enters the game the third-rated defense in the league, buoyed by a robust rotation of pesky on-ball defenders and the switchable, high-leaping Adebayo in the middle. They’re a tremendous defensive rebounding group, force the second most turnovers per game (trailing only the Bulls) in the NBA and don’t allow many looks around the rim — a place where the Bulls shoot frequently and inefficiently.

Where the Heat have gotten somewhat fortunate is defending the three-point line. Miami is alone at the top of the league in opponent three-point percentage (30.1%), but opponents are shooting only 33.5% on ‘wide-open’ attempts against them (as defined by NBA.com as shots without a defender within six feet of the shooter). The Bulls allow the same percentage on ‘wide-open’ three-pointers, well below the league average of 37.8%.

If the Bulls can catch fire from behind the arc, as they did against Detroit (14-for-27 from deep), it could be an area they can close the gap. And in that vein, after struggling mightily on the glass at the outset of the season, the Bulls rank fifth in the NBA in rebounding rate (52.5%) in their last five games — two of which were against formidable frontcourts in Milwaukee and Detroit. The Heat excel in that area, so it’s worth monitoring if the Bulls can keep that momentum rolling.

Bulls get (another) shot at a good team

The Bulls enter this contest 0-6 against teams with winning records this season. They were 7-40 in that department in 2018-19 and 9-41 the year before. That’s a combined 16-87 record against better-than-.500 teams in the last three years. Yikes.

Tonight, they get a chance to begin flipping that script. Blowing out dismal Detroit is encouraging, but conversations about a real corner being turned should be suspended until the Bulls start at least competing against the league’s best.

Jimmy Butler returns for the third time, with a third team

Since being traded from the Bulls in June 2017, Jimmy Butler has returned to the United Center as a visitor twice, once with the Timberwolves and once with the 76ers. Both of those games resulted in one-point Bulls wins.

In Miami, it seems he’s found a home. But Chicago still holds a special place in his heart.

“It’s always special to play here. This is where I started,” Butler said of returning to Chicago. “I was fortunate to be able to play in front of these wonderful fans in this great city and obviously all the history that went on here with the players that I was able to play with… I’ll always have love for this city. That will never change.”

Chicago fans will appreciate that sentiment, but certainly wouldn’t mind if tonight’s matchup goes similarly to Butler’s last two return trips. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.