The heat is on, on the street
Inside your head, on every beat
And the beat’s so loud, deep inside
The pressure’s high, just to stay alive
‘Cause the heat is on
— Glen Frey
The Miami Heat Monday in the United Center was on the Bulls with an 89-84 victory, the Bulls fourth consecutive home loss, a particularly discouraging one in another fourth quarter collapse.
And now the pressure is on to stay alive, really, for the Bulls in the Eastern Conference. Because the heat is on with the Bulls Thursday starting a seven-game road trip against the Lakers after a stop in their hotel in California.
It, indeed, could be heaven or it could be hell for a confusing Bulls team that could find itself even currently at 25-19 in a fight to remain among the top Eastern contenders given the frequency of their unpredictable play.
“It’s repetitive,” agreed Pau Gasol, who led the Bulls with 19 points and 17 rebounds. “It’s definitely a pattern. It’s happened all season long and continues to happen. Right now that’s just who we are, capable of great games and capable of not being able to sustain those. We do have a lot of injuries, key players, veteran players who could help us out, who know how to navigate and deal with the situations. But it is what it is. We have a tough road trip coming up. Let’s see if we can actually get some continuity and some good games together.”
It’s been a frequent and tiring refrain, and it came again after the Bulls scored one field goal in the last 4:50 in a Keystone Cops routine of players bumping into one another on defense, hesitant and stationary on offense in losing an eight-point fourth quarter lead against a Miami team without two starters, a team that opened with Amar’e Stoudemire at center and Beno Udrih at point guard.
But Derrick Rose left at halftime with back and hamstring issues after playing 13 first half minutes in a 49-47 Miami lead. The Bulls were also missing injured guards Kirk Hinrich and E’Twaun Moore. Plus, with Mike Dunleavy out all season and Joakim Noah having shoulder surgery and lost for the season, the Bulls suddenly were left with a core of young players who disappeared down the stretch, were routinely out of place on defense and rushing off balance shots.
Tony Snell played 28 minutes and was two of 11, Doug McDermott was three of 10 in 30 minutes and Nikola Mirotic was good early with 15 points and eight rebounds. But he played just 22 minutes, 10 in the second half as Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg went back to Taj Gibson at power forward for defense. Rookie Bobby Portis was ineffective and pulled after seven minutes.
“Not quite sure why the offense got stagnant, why guys stopped moving,” said Gasol about the late letdown and slowdown which saw a slow paced Miami team led by Dwayne Wade’s 28 points get a dunk from Justice Winslow losing Snell, a wide open jumper from Bosh and a jumper from Wade who ran Jimmy Butler in circles to close out the Bulls in the last two minutes. “I don’t know if it’s a crisis. If you call it a crisis you can say it’s been the crisis all season long. It’s who we are, nothing worse, nothing better than that. Let’s see what type of game we come out and play in L.A.
“We struggle against teams that have worse records than us,” Gasol agreed. “We struggle with concentration and urgency and toughness. So let’s see if we can actually play for 48 minutes the right way with the right intensity with the right will on the floor.”
Well, there is that about this Bulls team. You never know what you are going to get and from whom.
It also was an untypically lackluster effort from Butler with 13 points and zero free throws until late in the fourth quarter while fellow former Marquette star Wade routinely eased by Butler for floaters and even a vintage dunk late in the third quarter to pull Miami within 68-61.
“Missed shots,” offered a terse Butler. “I think we took a lot of great looks; just didn’t go in. I think we guarded well for the most part; it’s hard to win when you miss shots. Loss is a loss. He (Wade) is a hell of a player, a big time player and his career has been what it has been because of the way he scores the ball, how aggressive he is.
“Can’t be stuck on that (Saturday Cleveland) win,” said Butler. “I think everyone was over it; we just didn’t win. After a big win like that, to lose like this hurts. But we have another one coming up soon.”
Just what comes next?
There’s been no figuring this Bulls team with the frustrating litany of unpredictability and inconsistency, the terrific efforts against the best, the confusing losses to weaker team. Like Miami which these days, especially without starting guard Goran Dragic, looks at times like a senior citizen rec league team walking up the ball, looking around for a shot, players like Stoudemire hobbling around. Sometimes Wade, who instead made the Bulls look like the guys who aren’t even good enough for next.
The Bulls looked too good for the Heat in a 17-10 start, 23-18 after one quarter as Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the first quarter alone, the Bulls with eight assists on 11 baskets and the Heat shooting 33 percent.
“It was great early because we were moving the ball,” noted Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg “We had 12 assists with nine minutes to go in the second quarter and had six the rest of the way. I don’t know if Derrick’s absence had something to do with it; missing some wide open shots had something to do with it. But then we for whatever reason the ball stopped and we ended up taking tough shots.”
Miami climbed back ahead in the second quarter as the reserves, though scoring, were being outplayed on the defensive end. Rose came back with a strong drive and layup as he finished with four points and Gibson had a pair of fierce moves as the Bulls trailed by two at halftime.
But Rose was missing after that. Hoiberg said Rose experienced soreness in his knee after morning shootaround and then it worsened in the game. Hoiberg said Rose will be reevaluated Tuesday and that it didn’t seem serious. Similarly with Moore who could play Thursday as well, though likely not Hinrich. It’s possible Dunleavy makes his return later on this two-week trip as with so many veterans out it was more difficult to hide the flaws of the younger players, to which Gasol alluded.
“There are too many breakdowns,” said Gasol. “Sometimes we lift the foot off the pedal and we are not disciplined enough at times. We allow teams to get back in the game. I don’t care about missing shots. I think guys sometimes worry too much about missing open shots. We do have some key injured veteran players who know how to play the game and have done this longer than the younger guys and that’s a reality. Not an excuse. Let’s see if we can get a couple of guys healthier.”
The Bulls still seemed in control enough when Mirotic retrieved a miss and dunked the ball with two hands late in the third quarter. He added a three early in the fourth for a 73-65 Bulls lead. But Butler and Brooks basically playing the entire fourth quarter were a combined one for 10 shooting (zero for three for Butler), and no starter but Gasol scored a fourth quarter field goal.
Then Chris Bosh with 18 points hit the effective winner with 1:02 left in a clever triple stack play in which Wade dribbled up against Butler. Gasol was back with Bosh in front of him. Snell was pinned in front of Bosh and then Winslow in front of him. Wade went left over the Winslow screen. Gasol stepped up against Wade as Snell left Bosh and veered to catch up with Winslow. Butler then stumbled chasing Wade, thus leaving Bosh at 20 feet with no one within 10 feet of him. He made the shot.
The Bulls called timeout as Gasol and Butler were animated, apparently talking about the coverage. Both players and Hoiberg said it was mere miscommunication, though with Snell stuck in the middle he was the only one who reasonably could have switched out to Bosh. Still, it was just one of many open Miami shots and missed opportunities in a puzzling effort.
“We struggle at home a lot more than we do on the road. So it’s always a good time to be on the road,” shrugged Gasol. “We should be a much stronger home team (16-9), but we are not for whatever reason. So let’s see if we can have a great road trip and positive attitude. But we have to work; we have to play better.
“I’m not sure why we play better on the road,” added Gasol. “We are a little more focused on the road, play with more sense of urgency. We have the next seven games on the road; they are tough games. It is going to be a tough, draining road trip with the first couple of games in L.A., where guys will need to understand they have to take care of themselves and get their rest and make sure we have the energy to play the next five games (with two off days in Los Angeles). It’s a challenging position, but you find the true character of people and teams when they are facing adversity. Let’s see how this team responds.”
The heat is on this team; it’s on the road.