The Bulls are the closest thing to Heat-proof in the Eastern Conference, but there really shouldn't be a question of who's better. The Bulls only lost by four to them on Sunday, but the reasons why weren't in a handful of possessions.
The Bulls are the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA -- not because they want to be, but -- because they have to be. Their 32% offensive rebounding rate (ORR) is by far the highest in the NBA because it's the only way to cover up their slightly better than pedestrian .491 eFG% and well below average .268 free throw rate (FTR), according to Hoopdata.
The high risk of their possession-elongating reward is losing a step or two on transition defense because anywhere for two-to-three Bulls are around the opposing team's basket while the opposing team is running the other way with the ball. The Bulls are one of the best in the league at catchup up to them. Their energy is rarely matched and their height/length stands up to any team in the league.
But the Heat are just too good to give up that extra step. Give them an that step and they'll take a fullcourt fastbreak. The Bulls held the Heat to 14 fastbreak points [.pdf] and to a very low .421 eFG%, 17-for-40 (42.5%) within nine feet of the basket. And still lost.
Sure, the Bulls were without Luol Deng, but there's more to the story. The Bulls' ORR was below-average 25% on Sunday -- grabbing only 12 offensive boards, despite 46 bricks from the floor, scoring 15 second chance points. When the risk doesn't even reap the reward, that's called a loss.
The Heat got 40 shots at the line on 28 Bulls fouls and shot 11-for-22 (50%) on long-2s. They played great defense to get the Bulls shooting 7-for-21 (33.4%) on long-2s and 3-for-11 (27.4%) on 3s. The Bulls shot 17-for-29 at the rim (58.4%), but Every Bull not named Derrick Rose totaled only 16 shots at the rim and 14 at the line and the Heat made it look easy to score 22 points on the Bulls' 15 turnovers.
Compare that to last night, where the Bulls handled the Wizards in an effective blowout with an ORR or .316, an FTR of .419, shooting a .493 eFG%, and shooting 19-for-30 (61.3%) within ten feet. The Wizards outscored the Bulls 50-32 in the paint and 16-5 on fastbreaks, but the Bulls still won by ten [.pdf] -- because better teams win despite things with, well, other things in seemingly easier ways.
Getting to the line and shooting efficiently go hand-in-hand. Can the Bulls stop the Heat in a seven-game series? If so, they'll have to find ways to stop them without fouling and force the Heat to resort to fouling -- and that's where the skill gap puts the Bulls at a deficit at this point.
More notes after the jump...
- Is zone defense the Heat killer? Down 18-7 with about four and a half minutes left in the first quarter, the Bulls switched to a zone defense -- a rotating 2-3 that resembled everything from a 1-3-1 to a 1-2-2, depending on the weight forced by the offense -- at the end of the first quarter against Miami and had an 11-2 run. Thibs rarely went back to it in the game, despite it's great success to slow Miami down and the Mavericks' proving it to work in last season's NBA Finals, making me wonder if he's conscious of not allowing Erik Spoelstra to accumulate video of the Bulls playing zone before the playoffs.
Spoelstra's put on the back burner in conversations about the Heat unless there's something derogatory to say, but it's pretty uncontroversial that he's great with video -- and the Heat's defensive schemes should be proof of that. Thibs, being a video ninja himself, understands the price of giving material to opponents, but generally has the confidence that aggressiveness trumps the opponents' anticipation and counter-scheming. That said, zone D is risky because it's less aggressive than Thibs normally wants his players to be, so another explanation toward not using it more could be that Thibs wanted the Bulls to not get stagnant. Only Thibs and the coaching staff can explain this, but it'd be criminal to not have multiple zone hybrids in the arsenal
- Carlos Boozer was prevented from any serious attempts to gain position in the low post, taking zero (!!!) shots at the rim on the night and only one from 3-to-9 feet, going 3-for-6 on long-2s to finish with ten points on 5-for-10 shooting and zero trips to the line. As great as the Heat defense played, this is absolutely unacceptable.
Booz (18 points on 9-for-16, eight rebounds) had a hell of a finish against an awful Wizards squad, scoring 12 in the fourth quarter to put the home team away. What a difference going 6-for-7 at the rim with three dunks makes. Go figure.
- Luol Deng is "very close", according to Thibs, but added: "He still has to take contact on it." So it doesn't seem all that close to the point where he should be playing; just that it's close that he will play?
- Richard Hamilton played the Heat hurt -- and it showed. The brick-tastic masked man scored 11 points on an eye-opening 4-for-16 to go with five turnovers on Sunday; then, sat out Monday's game in D.C. No wonder Derrick Rose didn't feel right about kicking out to him on the final shot, when Rip was open for a jumper.
"In the first quarter I felt pretty good," he said after Sunday's game. "As the game went on, I felt like I was playing on one leg. It was tough. It was hard."
- Rose called his shot before Monday's game. His well-chronicled self-immolation after Sunday's loss to the Heat was followed up with the Monday's pre-game comment: "Tonight, I'm gonna go crazy."
He only needed 20 official shots from the floor to drop a season-high 35 points on the
WizardsGenerals. The Bulls are 85-30 (73.9%) in 115 games Rose has played, dating back to the start of the 2010-11 season and through the playoffs, but only 11-12 (47.8%) when Rose has taken 25 or more shots. On the other hand, the Bulls are 31-8 (79.5%) when Boozer takes 15 or more shots. In only five of those 39, he scored less than 15 and the Bulls still won them all. You want to see the risk of Boozer not showing up, not establishing position, not using space to be Rose's easy button, or just putting himself in a position to be an option of any sort? Here it is.
- Frank Vogel's having a lot of fun. He doesn't see anything extraordinary about the Pacers' celebration after beating the Bulls at the United Center, saying it's just typical of a road win. But clearly, his own personal reaction after the game show the game was a target on his calendar and -- in the same comments -- acknowledges that the Bulls' anger 'adds some spice to the rivalry'.
So, there's definitely a rivalry, that rivalry is getting heated, but the vast underdog in the rivalry didn't celebrate in ways beyond the norm after beating their Goliath on their Goliath's home floor? Seriously, Vogel, just admit you were pumped up to beat one of the best teams in the NBA and you take pride in coaching a team from hell to relevance.
- Joakim Noah's had six double-doubles in his last seven games. This after only one in his first 15. He's averaging 12.4 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.3 BPG in 33 MPG, shooting a .625 FG% and committing only 3.0 fouls per game over this stretch. His 17.5 PER still only ranks fifth among East centers, behind Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, and JaVale McGee, but All-Star Game coaches tend to swing to wanting multiple players from the team with the best record in the conference. On those terms, only Chandler (0.246) has more WS/48 than Noah (0.183) in the conference; Howard's rate (0.176) is just behind Noah.
- Just keep shootin' Kyle; it's cool. Kyle Korver was buckets on Monday, scoring 17 points in a monster 13 shots. He was 5-for-12 on those 3s in the third five-trey performance of his Bulls career. Back to the W-L-when-x-does-y, the Bulls are 15-5 (75%) over the last two seasons (playoffs included) when Korver attempts at least six treys.
- On another Eastern Conference note: the 76ers are fo' realz, like fo' rlzzz. And they want Amar'e Stoudemire. Scary or fairy?
We can go on-and-on forever about the Bulls having serious problems when Rose has to do everything on the offensive end. Before last season, all the Bulls needed was a post presence and the addition of Boozer helped to the best record in the NBA. After losing in the Conference Finals, all the Bulls needed was a shooting guard to be a serious scoring option on the perimeter to "stretch the floor" and punish defenses for collapsing on Rose.
Now, those pieces are there and I still contend these Bulls have the deepest roster in the league. But we've seen games where the offense plays a "stand around and watch Derrick" game and we've seen that those games are disasters -- even when they result in wins. There isn't a great second or third option for Rose to run a two-man game when in trouble, but there are very, very, very good ones; and Rose has proven that he just needs one or two of those guys to be average in order to break down a defense and dominate games.
Depth is great at the bottom of the rotation, but it becomes a parlor trick when those above the middle take vacations for full shifts -- if not full games. The Bulls just aren't good enough to win the East without a ton of things aligning in an almost perfect manner at the same time. It's a daunting task for an coach with any roster, but this coach has the pieces to make it so. More important, these players have the attributes to be utilized.
UPDATE -- "Hamilton admitted that he likely will sit for a while in an attempt to put the groin and right thigh bruise issues in his rearview mirror for good," K.C. Johnson is reporting.