I wrote about the last time the Bulls and Heat squared off against each other, and it’s unfortunate that the Bulls have not trended in a better direction since then. In fact, they remain solidly at .500, losing last night in Chicago, 118-96 to drop to 32-32. This marks their second loss in a row after having won two in a row. Granted, Thursday’s loss in San Antonio is about as tough of a matchup as a team will get, but returning to the United Center last night should have proven to be an opportunity to keep the winning going. And they looked fairly well positioned to do so through the first half, even with a somewhat weak second quarter, but the second half was all Miami. With just 18 regular season games left, the odds of an eighth seed are looking ever out of their favor, but let’s take a look at what led to this loss:
- Fatigue. Sure, it’s an easy thing to point to so late in the season on a team that’s not very deep to begin with, but after traveling back from San Antonio the night before, it’s no wonder. Back to backs are especially tough in the NBA because of the travel involved, and it certainly seemed to be affecting the Bulls last night. Their scoring dropped off quarter by quarter during the course of the game, and by the fourth, they could only muster 15 points. By then, the Heat had trended the opposite direction, increasing their scoring as the game progressed.
- They were down four players. Cameron Bairstow and Joakim Noah were both inactive, and Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler didn’t dress. Bairstow and Noah may not have a massive impact on a game like this, but they would have at least helped keep the starters fresh. The real loss is Rose and Butler, and by now, I have some concern about what’s happening with Butler’s knee. The Bulls’ medical staff being what it is, I fear that this could develop into a much more serious problem. With the season being so close to its end, the best long term decision for Butler might be to shut him down, but I’m digressing.
- The absence of Rose and Butler mean that Fred Hoiberg had to rely on E’Twaun Moore and newly acquired Justin Holiday. The University of Washington product played rather well last night though, leading the team in minutes played and adding 14 points on 6/15 shooting from the field. Holiday is playing in just his second full season in the NBA, and after having bounced around quite a bit, perhaps he can find his niche in Chicago. I’m a fan of Moore’s as well, and he played pretty decently (six points and five assists), but a guard duo of Holiday and Moore just isn’t going to lead the Bulls to a victory, even against the Heat at this point. Holiday did provide some reallly nice moments, like this one:
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 12, 2016
- Pau Gasol nearly had a triple double. He led the team in scoring with 17, pulled down 12 rebounds, and had nine assists. I joked on Twitter a while ago about Gasol and the idea that he thinks he can be a part of the Bulls’ long-term future, but he’s having a rather impressive season and his devotion to Chicago is admirable. The Bulls are certainly heading into a rebuilding phase in the coming years, and though Gasol isn’t likely to be a part of the next truly successful Bulls team by the time they come around, he’s at least giving us something good to watch, for the most part, in the time being. His defense was a little suspect, and he led the team in turnovers with six, but he’s a vital piece of any chance at success this season.
- The Heat are a changing team too. The days of the Big Three feel like a distant memory, and Miami is still in the process of figuring out where to go from there. Dwyane Wade is a shell of his former self, and a Chris Bosh return remains unclear, but they have players like Hassan Whiteside who might be reason enough to muster some excitement. Whiteside has turned into a fun player to watch, especially the way he can dominate the boards like he did last night. He was on nearly every defensive play, and 13 of his 16 total rebounds last night game on the defensive side of the court. The problem for Miami is that their roster outside of Whiteside gets pretty old. Wade and Bosh, of course, but even their recent acquisition in Joe Johnson has a lot of mileage on him already. Though Johnson’s arrival in Miami has corresponded with wins, he’s not a long term piece of their future either.
- Coming up: the Bulls will get two days of rest over the weekend before heading to Toronto on Monday night.