Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Bulls wilt against the Heat

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By Sam Smith | 1.25.2015 | 11:38 p.m. CT

It appears to be an intriguing strategy the Bulls have embraced, and once again on display Sunday in a 96-84 loss to the Miami Heat in which someone named Hassan Whiteside had 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks in just under 25 minutes off the bench.

That’s now Bulls losses to four teams recently who either will miss the playoffs or who are just hanging onto a playoff spot. Those teams likely won’t make the playoffs. So, no problem; the Bulls won’t have to worry about playing them in April and May. Almost half the Bulls losses in this clever strategm have been to losing teams as the Bulls overall are 29-17.

So, Imagine the overconfidence teams will have now coming into the United Center, where the Bulls fell to 13-11. And then, bam! Just when they’re not looking.

Well, it’s possibly a plan.

“If I had an answer I’d tell you,” said Derrick Rose about yet another lethargic Bulls effort at home, this time on national ABC-TV after two impressive wins over the Spurs and Mavericks. “I really don’t know.”

Perhaps the Stepford Bulls?

They sure didn’t look very lifelike again in falling behind 26-20 after one quarter and only briefly getting within four points for a few seconds late in the second quarter. Otherwise, the Heat never were much threatened, leading by double digits most of the second half.

“It seemed like we didn’t have that edge right from the beginning,” said Rose, who led a lifeless Bulls team with 19 points and four assists. “They came out and jumped on us and we weren’t able to come back. If we would have jumped on them quick, it would've changed the game. We started off slow and it cost us a loss. We have to learn from it and get it going early. Little frustrating, but it’s behind us and now we worry about the road trip.”

Oh, right, Golden State Tuesday. What a break only one of those tough losing teams in three on the road.

“We’ve done well on the road so far,” said Pau Gasol, who increased his league leading double/double total with 13 points and 17 rebounds. “Let’s see if we can continue. Three games in four nights coming up. It’s going to be a challenging road trip. But this is what the league is about, challenges and see how well you do.”

It can’t be much worse or any more indifferent than Sunday when: The Bulls scored their second fewest points of the season; shot a third lowest 35.6 percent; had Jimmy Butler’s season low five points; watched half Kirk Hinrich’s attempts being air balls; got four points and five rebounds from Joakim Noah, who sat out the fourth quarter; were pounded 54-43 on the boards by the league’s poorest rebounding team and gave up double their season average in fast break points to the 29th ranked team in that category.

Yes, let us count the ways to easy defeat in the depth, breath and height of their own indifference and the opponent’s domination.

Luol Deng in his first game back in the United Center since the trade last year had 15 points, 10 rebounds, a bunch of back cuts for baskets to make the Bulls look bad, and shut down defense on first Butler and then after he wore him down on Rose.

“Lu was sensational,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Whether it’s a one thru four, he takes the toughest covers every night. Tonight he guarded Rose most of the fourth quarter. It was a very emotional game for him (with a first quarter video tribute) and you heard it from the fans as well. There was a great response from the organization as well. As I got here, people asked me if Lu was on that bus and to wish him well. That’s why we recruited him so hard. It’s because of that type of person he is.”

As for recruiting Whiteside, who knew?

“You won't believe how things work out in life," said Whiteside, who signed with Miami in late November after two years playing in China and Lebanon and a half dozen D-league assignments and cut twice this season by Memphis . "Three months ago I was at the downtown Y just chilling, working on my game. I couldn't get a team to pick up the phone."

Lebanon?

On Sunday, he didn’t let the Bulls get to the basket.

Whiteside blocked five shots by Taj Gibson alone and symbolized the game for the Bulls in the last possession as Gasol went in for a left handed hook and Whiteside spiked it straight down like a volleyball kill.

There lies the Bulls; Whiteside sent them on their backsides.

“We understand if you want to contend for a championship you have to go through these tough tasks,” said Gibson. “There are no excuses. You just have to bounce back. I’m looking forward to going on the road; it’s always good to go on the road and get away, get together as a team, learn from your mistakes, watch film and try to go after it every night. We’ll be going against a tough crowd on the road every night, especially on the west coast. It will be good for us.

“We tend to get too lax at home,” Gibson added. “Sometimes I think in our heads we think we’re good enough that we just step on the court. It’s tough; teams are gunning for us. There’s a lot of speculation on how good we can be and how good we are and teams take pride in trying to beat us and see how far they can go. We have to learn from that. We went through a good two games, but in this league you can be humbled every other game and tonight we got humbled. It was a tough one. We’ve got to bounce back.”

That was pretty much the universal explanation as only Rose, Gasol and Gibson hung around to discuss it.

There wasn’t much to say as the Heat with Dwyane Wade scoring 26 points pump faked (it’s likely coach Tom Thibodeau warned them about that maybe 250 times) the Bulls into multiple fouls. Chris Bosh added 20 and the Heat starters outscored the Bulls’ 80-48.

“We got behind early, played low energy, and couldn’t get it going,” said a matter-of-fact Thibodeau. ”That is the challenge. It is never permanent. You always have to keep grinding, keep getting ready for the next one. We got down 10 early and it basically stayed there. Trading buckets most of the game after the first quarter. You look at it like you do any other game. Any loss is disappointing and you want to learn from it. Hopefully we can regroup and get ready to play a great game when we get out there and play them one at a time. We’ve got to figure it out; we have to be consistent with our preparation.”

You get the sense Thibodeau seems finally to be understanding, if not exactly accepting, that these sorts of games are going to be part of this team’s DNA. Though Thibodeau said Noah’s health was fine and he just wanted to try a different lineup, the Heat played off Noah, who still is recovering from various injuries. Gasol was thwarted offensively by Whiteside’s franchise record 12 blocks. But more so the Heat big men outran the Bulls’, which wasn’t something the Bulls would experience with Noah. The last big man to have a triple double with blocks was Noah last year and statisticians were running back for center comparisons as the Bulls often did last season for Noah. Butler was stymied by Deng. And then when Tony Snell came in, the Heat went at Snell every time with Deng. When Deng didn’t score, Deng passed for easy dunks as the Bulls defense rotated.

Only Rose and Aaron Brooks, the latter with 17 points off the bench and four of five threes, got much going offensively in one of those games the Bulls regularly experienced in that recent run of six losses in eight games.

Low energy, slow start, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But there’s more to that.

The Bulls defense, despite strong games against the Spurs and Mavericks, isn’t likely to ever again with this group maintain the consistent level of play it had in recent years. There are just too many new, injured and players who are stronger on offense. So the Bulls, actually like the usually walk-it-up Heat did, have to push the ball, run even after made baskets to not allow the defense to set up. Then move the ball to make the defense rotate.

What happened relentlessly was the Bulls would make one pass, maybe a dribble hand off or screen and then shoot. Not much passing, little side to side movement and not much speed in the game. The Bulls can give up many more points and still be dominant with the offense they have. But not walking into indifferent, jump shooting offense as the Bulls stood around for seven of 24 threes and were outscored by even 28th ranked offense Miami in the paint.

“Not moving the ball,” agreed Rose. “When it got on one side it stayed on one side. With that team and the way they play defense, they play kind of like us. They over help and I think we did a poor job of moving the ball tonight.”

Rose had a highlight reverse driving score early, but there weren’t many highlights for the Bulls. Miami led 48-36 at halftime as the Bulls shot 31 percent. And remember, Miami lost its best defender, LeBron James. The Bulls have now lost to all of James’ teams in a week. And Wade and Bosh aren’t exactly shut down defenders. Rose tried to rally the Bulls in the third quarter with 11 points, a one-on-one drive, a back cut score on a pass from Gasol, a pull up and some free throws. But the Bulls couldn’t make many defensive plays and trailed 72-60 after three.

It appeared the Bulls had one chance early in the fourth quarter with Brooks putting a chill on the Heat. He made a three to cut the deficit to 76-67 and then stole a Wade pass. The late arriving, early departing crowd was into the game and roaring. But Gibson got stripped going up with an offensive rebound and Wade followed with a jumper in an efficient game for him. Nikola Mirotic gave it one more hope with a three to get within 79-72, but Wade banged in two more jumpers. The Bulls heads, and perhaps hearts, were by then in San Francisco as Whiteside dunked for the next three Heat scores and added four blocks in the last 98 seconds.

“They try to take away the first and second option; you have to be willing to make that extra pass,” noted Gasol. “And find that open guy on the weak side. They load and really gamble on the strong side. If you move the ball you are going to find an open guy and good shots. We didn’t do it consistently. We are trying to get going and get ourselves some momentum. We haven’t been able to do it yet. We’ve got to come out with more sense of urgency, set the tone defensively and not allow teams to get going and get comfortable.”

Yup, heard that one before.

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