Talk is cheap: Lifeless Bulls struggle in loss to Heat

Talk is cheap: Lifeless Bulls struggle in loss to Heat

It was no wonder the Bulls were no match for the Miami Heat Friday night, in a game that was supposed to be a rousing response from a team that usually responds on the occasion when its back is to the wall.

The 100-88 final score at the United Center wasn't as close as the score indicated, as the telling faces in the aftermath of the game said more in a handful of minutes than anything that's been said or expressed over the past 48 hours.

And with a stretch of games on the west coast that will nearly carry the Bulls to the All-Star break, this is as critical a time as they've had in years.

Fred Hoiberg's stressed out look, complete with more exasperation than usual.

Dwyane Wade's short but respectful responses to the media after a six for 17 performance against his former team—coming off the bench in a disciplinary move from Hoiberg that seemed to backfire.

Jimmy Butler's smile only belied his one for 13 night, one of the worst outings of his career, a game where nothing seemed to work for him after joining Wade on the pine for the first half of the first quarter.

When asked if the benching was fair, Butler said: "Sure. That's on them. It's not my job to worry about what's fair. It's my job to hoop."

He didn't look into it and his usual determination and stubbornness only showed up in spurts during his 33 minutes.

"Disengaged? Nah. It was a little different. I was still into it," Butler said. "Still knew what I was supposed to be doing. Took the shots I take. That's fine. Just gotta be better."

Butler was a team-worst minus-23, one game after scoring 40 against the Hawks and nearly carrying the Bulls back to .500.

"I hope what happened has long-term benefits for our team," Hoiberg said, sound like a man who has to believe that rather than a coach who is resolute in his methods and message to his team.

Calling it the worst performance of the season, one would think it was hyperbole when factoring in a couple stinkers to the Bucks on back-to-back nights last month, but the lifeless way the Bulls came out didn't compare to the mere matchup problem posed by the Bucks. 

Even the Heat being a team that's won five straight couldn't explain how exhausted the Bulls looked—but the drama since Wednesday night's game filled in the blanks.

"It's…something where we gotta get back together, we gotta work," Hoiberg said. "We gotta regroup, we gotta find a way to come together. Huge game. We gotta find a way to get back together and put this one behind us and hopefully stay together as a team going forward."

They looked like a team coming apart at the seams as Goran Dragic dissected the Bulls with precision and the Bulls didn't have much of a counter, after a tumultuous 48-hour period.

Dragic scored 26 points with 11 assists and five rebounds while Willie Reed scored 20 on nine of 11 shooting as the Heat shot 46 percent from the field, forced 20 turnovers and led by as much as 20.

But this was much more about the Bulls than Heat, starting with Hoiberg's decision to bench Butler and Wade for their comments Wednesday night—sitting them for the first half of the first quarter.

It didn't produce the desired effect, and although Paul Zipser and Rajon Rondo played well with increased playing time, with Ziper scoring a career-high 14 in 27 minutes, starting in Butler's place, it rang hollow.

"I don't think that had an impact," said Hoiberg about the benching producing something negative. "It has been an emotional 48 hours, no doubt about that. A lot of guys talked about not sleeping last two days, thinking about what's going on with our team."

The Bulls only committed 12 fouls on the night, barely close enough to get back on defense as the Heat got whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted, however it wanted.

"I don't think that was our worst game of the season," Butler said. "It was another loss at home. Correct it tomorrow and get ready for (Philadelphia) on Sunday."

One would've expected a rousing response, but like everything else in the past few days, it was unpredictable, a struggle and quite ugly.

And the Bulls must regroup before going out west because this has potential to get uglier in no time.

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

With player heights long a topic of question and debate, the NBA informed teams that all players must be measured by a team physician this training camp.

It’s all part of the league’s push towards transparency, which includes detailed reports on officiating and other initiatives.

So who grew and who shrank among the Bulls?

Wendell Carter Jr. dropped from 6 feet, 10 inches to 6-foot-9, which will do nothing to change the narrative that he's an undersized big man. Kris Dunn moved from 6-4 to 6-3. Daniel Gafford isn’t 6-11, as first advertised when drafted, but 6-10. And Denzel Valentine is no longer 6-6 but 6-4.

The Bulls even pushed down Coby White’s flamboyant hairstyle and discovered he’s 6-4, not 6-5.

As for those who grew, well, Zach LaVine’s All-Star candidacy now features him as a 6-6 guard, not 6-5. New big man Luke Kornet is really big; he’s 7-2, not 7-1. And Shaq Harrison somehow grew from 6-4 to 6-7.

That’s the official Bulls’ roster. 

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Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

On the 2019 NBA Preview Show, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson broke down what it would truly take for the Bulls to make the jump into playoff contention following a particularly tough 22-win season. 

Johnson, like most of the national NBA landscape, is optimistic about the prospects of the 2019-20 Bulls. He stated that it is "widely accepted that they had a pretty strong offseason," but cautioned us against simply penciling in the Bulls for a playoff spot this season. 

Despite the additions of savvy veterans like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls still enter the 2019-20 NBA regular season as the second-youngest team in the NBA, as good of a reason as any to temper expectations.

That being said, the Bulls, from a simple talent standpoint, are much better than last year's squad that featured a ton of injuries and many Windy City Bulls/NBA G League call-ups. 

With a new coaching staff around head coach Jim Boylen and a new offensive philosophy, things will be very different in Chicago this season.

But as Johnson stated in Tuesday's 2019 NBA Preview Show, for the Bulls to achieve their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, "basically, all of those [free agent] additions need to hit.

"You need to see Tomas Satoransky prove that he can be a full-time starter at that point guard position, you need to see Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen take a step towards stardom, you need to see Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy enough to contribute at that small forward position and you need to see Wendell Carter Jr. hit the two-way potential that the organization believes he has... and Coby White... needs to bring you something off the bench."

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is and it appropriately represents the amount of work needed to make the leap from 22-wins to a playoff spot. 

What the Bulls have working on their side as of now is that everything we have seen and heard from the team throughout preseason has indicated that there is good shot that every one of the things K.C. Johnson named happens. 

Carter was limited to just 44 games due to injury last season and while he has looked rusty in the preseason, he has also had some explosive finishes and shown his trademark appetite for help defense and blocked shots. Carter blocked 2.0 shots per game over two preseason games but was abysmal in terms of his offensive efficiency (26.7% from the field), something to keep an eye on throughout the first week of regular-season games. 

Boylen recently made comments about managing Porter's workload, so clearly keeping Porter healthy amid the backdrop of the Bulls questionable wing depth is already something the organization has discussed and seems to have a concrete plan for. 

Satoransky has shown that he can comfortably handle the starting duties at the one as Johnson suggested, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game while being lights-out from 3-point range (80% on 1.2 attempts per game). And while Sato represents the steady hand, Coby White represents the true "boom-or-bust" option in the backcourt, capable of going off for 25+ points or fading into the background while playing more of an off-ball role. 

The factor that Johnson mentioned that will have the greatest impact on the 2019-20 Bulls season is if Markkanen and LaVine can take a step towards superstardom.

LaVine looks clearly poised to do so, finishing the preseason third in the league in scoring at 23.2 points per game on 59.3/56.0/ 83.3 shooting splits. Markkanen, on the other hand, struggled to find his shot and despite being one of the top-three scoring options on the team, struggled to get his scoring average just over 11.0 points per game (11.2). 

It is only preseason action, so all results are to be taken with a grain of salt. But as we gear up for the start of the Bulls games that count on Wednesday, it is clear that the national outlook on the Bulls is much rosier than it has been in the past.

Johnson stated that the Bulls are indeed shaping up as a "sexy pick" to make the playoffs and that alone is a monumental step in the right direction as the franchise looks to put last season's disappointment further in the rearview mirror. 

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