D-Wade wasn't smiling because he was happy to be back in Chicago.
Going into last night’s game against the Heat, I was expecting one of the Bulls’ best efforts of the season. I really was. Consider the circumstances: Playoffs on the line, pride at stake after that tough loss in Miami a couple weeks back, and of course the mini-audition for free-agent-to-be Dwyane Wade. Sure, Luol Deng (strained calf) is still out and Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) is far from 100 percent, but this team has been bouncing back from injuries all season.
Instead of bouncing, the Bulls hit rock bottom with a sickening thud.
Instead of a spirited, competitive effort, Chicago fans were witnesses to what may have been the Bulls’ worst loss of the season. Yes, worse than their home defeat to the eight-win New Jersey Nets. Yes, worse even than the time they collapsed after building a 35-point lead against the Sacrameto Kings.
This epic fail isn’t just about the numbers, although those are pretty bad. The Bulls shot just 32 percent (including 28 percent in the first half) while the Heat hit nearly 52 percent of their field goals (including over 60 percent during the first 24 minutes). Chicago had just three fast break points and got outscored 52-28 in the paint. Miami got to the rim at will, scoring 18 layups and 4 dunks. The Heat led 63-33 at halftime and 86-49 after three quarters, and their biggest lead was 39. Those 74 points represented the Bulls’ lowest scoring game of the season. The 29-point margin was Miami’s second-largest victory of the season and Chicago’s second-worst.
And, of course, Derrick Rose went out of his way to prove he might actually be overrated by going 5-for-16 and finishing with a game-worst plus-minus score of -33.
Even those ugly stats don’t properly illustrate how listless the Bulls were last night. I’ve seen more fight in preseason games. I’ve seen more fight during a game of checkers. I’ve seen more fight during Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies. I’ve seen more fight during a nap. Guys just didn’t bring it. And that fact didn’t escape coach Vinny Del Negro.
Said Vinny: “No good answer for anything. They just attacked us with O’Neal and Beasley. … We did not have enough fight in us tonight. We beat each other up more in practice than we did the opponent tonight. That is the frustrating part — their effort was better, their energy was better and that is why they beat us up.”
Added Taj Gibson: “They really punched us in the mouth tonight.”
Not even members of the Heat could believe how cakey this particular walk through Chicago was. Jermaine O’Neal — who led the Heat with a game-high 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting — said: “We were a little shocked. We talked about it a little bit on the bench. Especially all the conversation that was kind of here in the papers and stuff like that, their struggles and the importance of the game for them, also. … We were prepared for a fight.”
Too bad the Bulls weren’t prepred to fight.
This loss wasn’t just a blow — perhaps a near-fatal blow? — to Chicago’s playoff hopes. It was the worst-possible audition for Wade and other potential free agents. Because that’s the Bulls’ end goal, right? Luring Wade or someone like Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson to the Windy City this summer. That’s why they traded John Salmons and the right to switch picks in the 2010 NBA draft to the Milwaukee Bucks for about $6 million in extra cap space: To be competitive in the upcoming free agent market, which promises to be one of the best ever.
But the Bulls also need to compete on the court. Those players are going to be offered money by several teams, including their own. Why would any of them give up a winning situation for something that looked so hapless last night? Because Chicago winters are so awesome? I don’t think so.
The Bulls have lost 11 of 13 games – including a 10-game losing streak – and are in ninth place in the East…2 1/2 games behind the eighth place Toronto Raptors. But forget the playoffs. This team needs to start playing like their future depends on competing in every game, because it really kind of does.
More By The Horns:
Check out ESPN’s Daily Dime for the Daily Dime Live Recap (where I tried to joke and eat my way through last night’s ugly loss) and BTH’s supplementary piece “Bulls Routed By Heat.”
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos
ESPN’s Chris Broussard and Ric Bucher may not agree on whether Joakim Noah’s ongoing absence due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot is the costliest injury in the NBA, but the Bulls have now give up 100 or more points in 10 straight games. They’ve lost eight of those games, including the last seven in a row.
Chicago can’t stop anybody. Take last night, for example. Miami center Jermaine O’Neal scored a season-high 25 points by going 8-for-13 from the field and 9-for-11 from the line. Of his eight field goals, three were layups and two were dunks. And obviously he was pretty successful getting to the line.
The Bulls couldn’t stop him. They couldn’t even hope to contain him.
Welcome to the Bulls’ hell. Chicago is still one of the worst offensive teams in the league (27th in Offensive Efficiency), and now they’ve fallen out of the top 10 in Defensive Efficiency. Actually, they’re free falling in pretty much every category…the season standings, the playoff race, etc.
Can you feel the frustration?
The Chicago players sure can. The Bulls — who were playing without their medium-sized three of Noah, Derrick Rose (sprained left wrist) and Luol Deng (strained right calf muscle) — put up a surprisingly good fight all things considered. In fact, they were down only 10 points (87-77) with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Then things got whacky.
Brad Miller fouled Dywane Wade on a drive. For some bizarre reason, the officials decided it was a flagrant even though — somewhat ironically, somewhat painfully — it wasn’t even as bad as the foul that injured Rose in Friday night’s loss to the Magic. It really wasn’t. But Wade, as often happen, went down. And the officials took exception.
After that, Wade got lippy and Kirk Hinrich got a technical foul for arguing the call. Then Brad Miller got T’d up for trying to figure out what made his foul a flagrant. Then Hinrich went after an official like the dude had just kicked a kitten, which meant tech number two for Captain Kirk…and an automatic ejection.
The Heat hit all six foul shots and then — because they flagrant foul meant they retained possession of the ball — Wade knocked in a shot from the baseline. So in a span of about 20 seconds, the Bulls went from being down 87-77 to falling behind 95-77.
Regarding his flagrant foul, Miller said: “I was just standing there with my damn arm up and he comes like he always does and I just don’t fall down. You get a flagrant for taking a hit, and that’s the joy of certain people against certain people. … They were trying to be tough guys, and we get to see them again.”
Replied Wade: “Honestly, I don’t want to talk about anybody’s frustrations [or] their season. We’ve had our ups and downs as well. I’m not going to talk about me getting calls or not getting calls. We’ve had that here so Brad can stop crying.”
Saucer of milk, table two, please.
To make matters worse – yes, believe it or not, they could get worse – replays sure made it look like Hinrich bumped referee Tom Washington on the arm while he was flapping his gums at referee Bennie Adams after the second technical. That could mean a one-game suspension
Said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: ”I’ll have to look at the film to make a better assessment of it. You can’t always worry about the referees, but sometimes you have to make your point. Bottom line is you have to do it on the court. You have to play and keep battling.”
Emotionally, it was hard watching the Bulls lose their seventh straight game and fall further out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Really hard. But if I’m being intellectually honest, I have to admit it was impressive that Chicago was able to keep things close without their top three players. Minus an awful third quarter — during which they were outscored 29-18 — and that crazy sequence in the fourth, the Bulls hung tough.
It was also nice seeing James Johnson get some minutes and produce. The rookie scored a career-high 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and an assist. If Noah is going to miss time and the Bulls are going to struggle, Vinny really might as well develop JJ. That could be a key player investment…even if it doesn’t benefit the team until next season.
Meanwhile, I’m sure the Bulls will circle their March 25 game against the Heat on the calendar. But hopefully they’ll save a little focus for Tuesday’s game at Memphis.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos