Posts Tagged ‘Kirk Hinrich’

Heavy Mettle: Losing Deng Steels Bulls

VIDEO: Joakim Noah leads Chicago to a victory against Phoenix

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah took a pass Tuesday night. He took a pass Tuesday morning, too, and then again on Tuesday evening an hour or so before tipoff. The news that his teammate, his friend, his brother Luol Deng had been traded hit Noah hard and he wasn’t ready in the first 24 hours after the deal to invite in the outside world. So no media ops for him.

And yet, for 2 hours 15 minutes against the Phoenix Suns at United Center, Noah spoke loud and clear. Chicago’s emotional center scored 14 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and passed for six assists, a performance good enough to pay tribute to Deng, serve notice to the league about these dismantling Bulls and say pretty much whatever else he wanted it to say.

Considering the funk into which Noah might have gone, the Bulls were grateful he went the direction he did in the 92-87 victory.

“Jo is an emotional guy,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s good. I think it’s also what drives him, so you don’t want to take that away from him. He was fine. He is close to Lu. Any time you’ve played with someone for an extended amount of time, and all the trials and tribulations that you go through, there’s a closeness there.

“He responded. I felt by tonight, he got himself together. He was ready to go. His defense was off-the-charts. Playmaking. He got into the flow of the game. He got us going. He’s one of the leaders fo the team, so I think that’s important.”

There was a gloom at the start Tuesday, the reality and the finality of Deng’s departure hitting home. The Bulls had played plenty of games without the two-time All-Star, but those had owed to injuries, temporary absences vs. the permanence of this one.

Piece by piece, what began as nothing less than a championship-focused season has come undone. Derrick Rose was lost for the season, again. Carlos Boozer was out again Tuesday with a sore knee. Now Deng belongs to Cleveland. This team has weathered all sorts of ailments in recent years but this roster-eating bacteria, in the name of cap space and “financial flexibility,” trumps them all.

“It’s tough. Y’know, we lost our best player, and our leading scorer got traded,” guard Kirk Hinrich said.

Seeing Deng’s empty locker, and no one over there stretching in front of it during pregame, drove home the loss, Hinrich said.

“The guys who’ve been around, they’ve probably experienced something like this,” he said. “Obviously it was a big deal because Lu had been here for so long and had such great relationships with everybody on this team, the organization, the community. He’ll be sorely missed, but I mean, what can you do? We had to move forward.”

Some of the Bulls spoke with Deng after the trade overnight, Monday to Tuesday. Jimmy Butler sounded a little embarrassed when sharing Deng’s comment that he would miss Butler. They mostly joked and rarely had talked so seriously. And then came Tuesday’s game.

“It was weird,” Butler said. “We’re so used to hearing Lu say, ‘Bulls on 3!’ and then counting us out. When he’s not there… ”

So who did it instead?

“Me. It was weird,” the third-year swingman said. “But new roles, new leaders. Got to step up.”

The Bulls will hear, and probably already have heard, plenty about building-by-teardown, losing their way into the lottery and hoping – with some of the assets they got in the Cavaliers deal – to start fresh next spring with a couple of guys currently in college and others who’ve yet to attend senior prom.

It’s nothing that plays well in their locker room. There have 49 games left and aren’t inclined to toss away any of them yet.

That might have been part of what was balled up in Noah’s emotions Tuesday, the stuff he didn’t want to let out while letting people in.

“I feel like Jo feels we have a lot to prove still,” Butler said. “People count us out, and Jo’s not someone to go for that – at all. So if people overlook us, Jo’s going to put that game face on and go out there and compete. And produce and play well.”

The acid-reflux Thibodeau must feel each time he thinks of Deng now can be eased by the likes of Noah’s play against the Suns, and the Bulls coming together for a night at the end of a very long day.

By the end, the Bulls’ coach could have been standing in front of a huge U.S. flag as he talked of the challenge and the mettle he’s seen before and needs to see again.

“It’s ‘whatever your circumstances are, make the best of those circumstances,’ ” Thibodeau said. “There’s constant change in this league, whether it’s injuries, trades, free agency, whatever it might be. Then the challenge for the team is to not get distracted with all that other stuff and get locked into what you have to do for your team to be successful.

“That’s what I like about our team. This team has been good a lot of different ways. But they always get up. They always get up.”

VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks about the departure of Luol Deng and the Bulls’ victory

Blogtable: Your Advice For The Bulls?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Who is the East’s best PG? | Your advice for Chicago? | Thoughts on Kobe’s extension?

Any advice for the Bulls? What do they do short-term and long-term?

VIDEO: The Beat crew reacts to Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee surgery

Steve Aschburner, Short-term, I’d encourage the Bulls to play mind games or whatever else it takes to minimize the debilitating mental effect of losing Rose for a second consecutive season. As in: Go one game at a time. Divide it in two (Rose’s impact really won’t be missed defensively). Then divvy up his FGAs and pretend he’s only out that night. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s the only way to survive another plugger season of smaller ambitions. Long term? Don’t give up on a former MVP who will be, after all, returning from a meniscus repair, not another ACL. Rose might need to dial down his explosiveness and cuts, adding more floor-bound game, but he still is likely to be an All-Star worth building around.

Fran Blinebury, Short term, suck it up, get over the shock and get back to being the gritty bunch from last season. Going into next year, I’d commit to Luol Deng, move Carlos Boozer and try to find some offensive punch to put in the backcourt next to Rose when he returns. And, oh yes, settle whatever differences exist in the front office and make sure that Tom Thibodeau is content to continue coaching in Chicago for a long time.

Jeff Caplan, Unless you can find a miracle and get a taker for Carlos Boozer‘s massive salary, buckle up and get ready to scrap, scrap, scrap. I just don’t know if this team can go through that mental grind again for an entire season. It’s so much to ask. This summer, Boozer can be amnestied and other moves made. I wouldn’t overreact right now and potentially make a regrettable move.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Keep doing what they’re doing. They have a star coach, some good players and very bad luck. It’s not like the Bulls are going to make a trade to replace Derrick Rose, by moving him (obviously) or bringing in a years-long replacement, so push on. Don’t tank. Don’t dump players they would not have otherwise. They will still defend at a very high level and they will still make the playoffs.

John Schuhmann, Remain flexible. If the right opportunity (one where you can gather assets) comes along, they should trade anybody on their roster not named Rose, Butler or Noah. But they also should be content with keeping their core intact and even bringing Luol Deng back next summer (at the right price). Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will all still be on the right side of 30 at the start of next season, while Rose, Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic (who remains in Europe at the time) will be just 26, 25 and 23, respectively. Even if the Heat keep their Big Three together, their supporting cast is getting older, and the right pieces around the Bulls’ core would be enough to keep pace with Miami and Indiana.

Sekou Smith, Take the Thanksgiving holiday to step back and breathe a little bit before diving into anything. When the Bulls’ brain trust reconvenes, it’s time to seriously consider moving up the timetable on the roster reshuffling that was coming this summer anyway. They have the cloak of the Rose injury to help cover them in the event of a mistake. Whatever they do will be covered by that fact. Now is the time to explore all trade options for Luol Deng, who I’d shop to Oklahoma City for a package deal that includes Reggie Jackson, an ideal young point guard who can get Chicago through whatever rough patches lies ahead as D-Rose recovers. My short-term plan would be to tweak the supporting cast with more dynamic talent than what’s on hand at several positions. Long-term, you pray to Naismith and the rest of the basketball gods that Rose returns as at least some semblance of the MVP Bulls fans came to adore. There’s no sugar-coating the fact that there is tons of work to be done.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: What do they do now? They keep playing defense, defense, defense, and Thibs keeps screaming until his voice sounds like sandpaper, and more than anything else, they keep playing harder than their opponent is playing. We saw how far the Bulls can get on grit and hustle last season in the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, a team with Noah, Deng, Butler, Boozer, Hinrich, Dunleavy and Gibson is at the very least a playoff team. Of course, Rose is that catalyst that makes them a title contender, and without him the expectations change. But that doesn’t mean this Bulls team can’t at least make some noise both in the regular and postseason. And as for long term, they wait for Rose to get back and get healthy. Not much else you can do.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Short term: tanking is not an option, so keep what you have and try to make the playoffs like you did last year. Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli, two key players for the Bulls who went to the second round last year, are gone, but the core is still intact. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah are great players. Long term: give Rose another chance, let Deng go and amnesty Boozer. You can rebuild with Rose, Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler while going after a top free agent. The Bulls can have a bright future.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: If they can buy low, in terms of the contracts of their impending free agents, I think they should, because if (a big if) they are healthy they’re a legitimate contender for the throne. Their core has had only one crack. That complete lineup took them all the way to the East finals, and if they just rebuild again it might bite them in the future. But if they can get a little younger without yielding too much talent, they should also stay open to the possibility of retooling instead of overhauling the whole roster.

Back And Forth With Bones: Bulls-Jazz

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an email exchange between’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-6 Chicago Bulls and the 1-14 Utah Jazz on NBA TV.


Schuhmann: I think this game qualifies as the Saddest Matchup of the Season. The Bulls just lost Derrick Rose for the year and the Jazz are 1-14, having trailed three of their last four games by at least 28 points. But somebody has to win tonight!

Chicago has actually been much better defensively with Rose off the floor, and Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler is a pretty strong defensive backcourt. But for the time being, they’re also without Butler. So Marquis Teague and Tony Snell will each have a chance to prove they belong in the rotation. Long-term, they should be OK defensively, and they’ve been pretty poor offensively thus far, but they won’t be able to get much better without Rose.

And obviously, this puts more pressure on Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to play big minutes and stay healthy. Noah’s minutes (29.3) are down below where he was two years ago (30.4) after a big increase last season (36.8), but I wonder if they go back up now that Rose is out.

Utah had two of their better offensive games upon Trey Burke‘s arrival, but they’ve actually been at their best with Diante Garrett playing point. This guy is a plus-24 for a team that’s been outscored by 67 points since he arrived.

Chicago can get points on second chances. They rank third in offensive rebounding percentage and the Jazz rank 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. It’s strange that Utah is such a bad rebounding team with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (who’s out with a sprained ankle) up front. They’re actually worse with both of them on the floor than they are overall, but we talked a couple of weeks ago about how they extend out too much on their pick-and-roll coverage.

What are you looking for tonight?

Barry: So many things going wrong for both of these teams. Both are coming off very embarrassing performances and have a number of players in the role of proving they belong to be in the rotation, if not in the NBA.

The Kanter loss for the Jazz will greatly affect their ability to score points. Burke is trying to get his legs and conditioning back after just one start. And beginning his career with a team under these circumstances is very very tough.

I guess this game boils down to the identity of the teams. The Bulls have one and Utah has yet to establish one. I look for the Bulls to respond in a way that they have in the past without Rose. Even though the makeup of this team is different, they should be able to pull this game out with the experience of their roster.


Robinson On Rose-Less Bulls: ‘They’ll Figure Out A Way To Win’


DALLAS – Back in Chicago for a late October preseason game, Nuggets guard Nate Robinson acknowledged how much he missed his old Bulls teammates with whom he’d been through so much during last season’s inspiring and trying ride without Derrick Rose.

Exactly a month later, with Rose having undergone season-ending knee surgery Monday, it’s the Bulls who might miss Robinson more than they could have imagined.

An important offensive spark and a big-shot maker during his one season with Chicago, Robinson never got the chance to play with Rose. Just four nights ago, he faced off against him in Denver, going for 11 points and three assists to help his new club beat the Bulls by 10. The next night at Portland, Rose tore the meniscus in his right knee just 10 games into his return from the torn ACL in his left knee that kept him out all of last season.

“Sad,” Robinson told Monday night as the Nuggets prepared to face the Dallas Mavericks. “It’s sad for me, it’s sad for him, I know for sure. My son was really sad about it because he loved Derrick Rose. He got a picture with him last year. He was so excited.”

The entire NBA was excited to have Rose, the 2010-11 league MVP, back in action. Suddenly, and sadly, everybody’s wondering if Chicago can reset again without their star point guard and grind out another season without him. That process has started excruciatingly slow in the immediate aftermath. On Sunday in Los Angeles, the Clippers hammered the Bulls by 39 points, 121-82. Playing at one-win Utah on Monday, the Bulls struggled again, losing, 89-83 to the Jazz in OT.

“It’s tough. It’s definitely going to hurt them, but they’re tough, man,” Robinson said. “They’ll figure out a way to win. They always do.”

They’ll have to do it without the bolt of energy that is the 5-foot-9 Robinson, who produced one of those familiar scoring flurries in Dallas with 17 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter that included three 3-pointers to help the Nuggets get a 110-96 road win. With Chicago, Robinson averaged 25.4 mpg and played in all 82 games for the injury-riddled squad. He averaged 13.1 ppg and 4.4 apg for the Bulls, and 16.3 ppg during their gritty playoff run into the East semifinals that included an unforgettable 34-point explosion in the triple-overtime Game 4 win in the first round against the Nets.

Robinson started 23 games and was indispensable to Chicago’s success considering Kirk Hinrich, who again takes over as the starting point guard, played in just 60 games last season.

In Sunday’s loss to the Clippers, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau started Mike Dunleavy alongside Hinrich with regular starter Jimmy Butler (sprained big toe) still injured. Monday night at Utah, Thibodeau gave rookie Tony Snell the start. At the point, Chicago also has veteran journeyman Mike James and second-year point guard Marquis Teague, who played in 48 games last season and had played in just half of the Bulls’ first 12 games.

Considering the circumstance, Robinson, who signed a two-year, $4.1-million free-agent deal with the Nuggets, would likely again be counted on as a big-minute contributor in Chicago. But he’s long gone.

“I don’t know what they need. I don’t know nothing about it,” Robinson said of the Bulls’ predicament. “I know these guys here, I got their backs, my new teammates.”

It hasn’t been instant success start for Robinson, 29, in Denver, which has a glut of backcourt players with Randy Foye starting alongside Ty Lawson, and a bench that includes veteran Andre Miller, who still logs 18.9 mpg, plus second-year swingman Evan Fournier. New coach Brian Shaw is playing Robinson 16.9 mpg. He’s averaging 7.5 ppg and 2.3 apg. He’s shooting 34.4 percent from the floor, although 40.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

After a sluggish start to the season, the up-tempo Nuggets are now 7-6 and on a three-game win streak as they adjust to Shaw’s more inside-out offensive approach. Forward Wilson Chandler recently returned to the lineup and at some point forward Danilo Gallinari will make his return from the ACL injury he sustained last April.

Still, the Nuggets are getting up and down the floor, a quick pace that seems a natural fit for the frenetic Robinson.

“I just like to play basketball,” he said.

Noah ‘100 Percent’ For Miami Opener

HANG TIME CENTRAL – Mint a coin. Have your camera phones ready. Do not blink.

The Chicago Bulls are about to play an NBA game with everybody healthy. No telling when that might happen again.

Derrick Rose‘s return to regular-season play has been and will remain the biggest story of Chicago’s early 2013-14 schedule. But Rose’s absence clouded over the difficulty the Bulls had keeping their other plates spinning and intact, frankly, both before and after April 28, 2012 (the day he went down 18 months ago).

So when center Joakim Noah, after practice Sunday, pegged his chances at “100 percent” of facing Miami Tuesday in the teams’ opener and guard Kirk Hinrich said he too was confident of playing, it had a don’t-anybody-sneeze feel to it.

Noah had made just one preseason appearance after slipping in practice and suffering a groin strain early in camp. Several days earlier, both he and Hinrich seemed like longshots at best to face the Heat, from listening to coach Tom Thibodeau. But Noah told reporters at the team’s practice facility Sunday that missing the final tune-up against Denver Friday was a precaution only.

As competitive as he is, and as aware of the inevitability of getting through the two-time defending champs if his team hopes to chase a title, Noah figured to be straining at the leash if he had to sit out.

“Every time you play against Miami, it’s a statement,” Noah said. “In the beginning of our season, we’re a hungry group. It’s one of 82 but we know that every time we play against Miami it’s important.”

Noah didn’t seem concerned about a drop in his conditioning, though that seems likely to cut into his minutes after his limited October play. Hinrich, who suffered a concussion Oct. 18 and also was coping with a sore shoulder, endured a rigorous practice Sunday without setback.

Noah, Hinrich and the rest will be on hand at AmericanAirlines Arena Tuesday when commissioner David Stern presents the Heat with championship rings, and their 2012-13 title banner gets unveiled. The Bulls should consider themselves lucky if they exit south Florida empty-handed, as in no gauze, no splints, no walking boots. Game 2 of 82 comes Thursday at United Center against the Knicks.

One Team, One Stat: Can Bulls Get No. 1 Defense Back?

From Media Day until opening night,’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Chicago Bulls, who are getting their star back.

The basics
CHI Rank
W-L 45-37 t-11
Pace 92.0 27
OffRtg 100.4 24
DefRtg 100.3 5
NetRtg +0.1 15

The stat

5.1 - More points per 100 possessions that the Bulls’ defense allowed last season (100.3) than they did the season before (95.3).

The context

Only two defenses — New Orleans (+5.3) and Philadelphia (+6.4) — regressed more. The Bulls also regressed more offensively (-4.1 points per 100 possessions) than every team but one (Phoenix). In total, the Bulls were 9.2 points per 100 possessions worse last season than they were in 2011-12. That was the biggest NetRtg drop-off in the league.

Bulls efficiency under Tom Thibodeau

Season OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2010-11 105.5 12 97.4 1 +8.1 2
2011-12 104.5 5 95.3 1 +9.3 1
2012-13 100.4 24 100.3 5 +0.1 15

The offensive regression is easily explained by the absence of Derrick Rose. And as long as he doesn’t take too many nights off this season, the Bulls should be back in the top 10 or 12 on that end of the floor. If Jimmy Butler shoots 3-pointers like he did in the playoffs, they’re definitely in good shape.

Being in the Top 10 on both ends of the floor qualifies you as a title contender. But if the Bulls are going to regain their standing as the best regular-season team in the Eastern Conference (as some predict they will), they will need to get a lot of that defense back. And the defense regressed more than the offense.

Better offense will certainly help the defense. More made baskets will allow the Bulls to set up their D more often. But there’s more to address. In particular, there were three areas where the Bulls regressed defensively last season.

Bulls defense under Tom Thibodeau

Season Opp2P% Rank Opp3P% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA/FGA Rank TransD Rank
2010-11 45.6% 1 32.6% 1 76.2% 3 15.1% 11 .291 9 1.88 15
2011-12 44.2% 1 32.5% 3 74.3% 8 14.3% 25 .236 3 1.63 12
2012-13 46.7% 5 34.6% 5 73.6% 14 14.8% 22 .278 19 1.79 23

DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
TransD = Opponent fast-break points / Opponent steals

First, their transition defense went from above average to below average, an area where better offense will definitely help. But they also went from third to 19th in opponent free throw rate, which translated into an extra three free throws per game for the opposition. Finally, the Bulls didn’t protect the rim as well, going from first in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area in ’11-12 to 10th last season.

Here are some clips from a Christmas game in which the Rockets racked up 31 fast break points, 24 trips to the line, and shot an incredible 30-for-40 in the restricted area.


This is where the absence of Omer Asik comes in. The Bulls still defended the rim decently with Joakim Noah on the floor, allowing their opponents to shoot 58.0 percent in the restricted area. But opponents shot 62.3 percent in the restricted area with Noah off the floor. With Asik anchoring the second unit, that number was a paltry 49.8 percent in 2010-11.

The defense as a whole regressed with Noah off the floor. And that’s something that didn’t happen in the first two seasons under Tom Thibodeau. One of the biggest keys to the Bulls’ No. 1 defense in 2010-11 and 2011-12 was how good their bench was on that end of the floor. This used to be a great defensive team from 1-15. Now, not so much.

Bulls defense with Noah on and off the floor

Noah on floor Noah off floor
Season MIN DefRtg MIN DefRtg
2010-11 1,575 99.6 2,391 95.9
2011-12 1,945 98.6 1,243 90.0
2012-13 2,426 98.4 1,540 103.4

Asik, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer are all gone. And unlike Rose, they’re not coming back. Kirk Hinrich is a solid defender on the perimeter, but the defensive depth is not there anymore. Taj Gibson is still around and is a great defensive player, but he’s not a center.

The Bulls were forced to lean on Noah much more last season. His minutes jumped from 30.4 per game in ’11-12 to 36.8 in ’12-13. And he didn’t hold up, missing 12 of the Bulls’ last 15 games of the regular season. Once again this season, his health and durability will determine how good the Bulls are defensively.

Maybe the Bulls don’t need to be the No. 1 defensive team in the league anymore. Maybe Rose’s return, the development of Butler and the addition of Mike Dunleavy will improve them enough offensively that they can make up for the defensive drop-off.

But as we wonder how good Rose is going to be this season, the Bulls’ defense is as much a question as the offense is.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Bulls: Rose Not Playing in Game 3

From staff and wire reports

The Bulls are reporting that injured point guard Derrick Rose is a no-go for Game 3 of their series against the Miami Heat on Friday night:

With Kirk Hinrich (calf) and Luol Deng (complications from a spinal tap) also out, the Bulls again will be undermanned in the series, which is tied 1-1.

Good news: They’ll have Taj Gibson, who was thrown out of Wednesday night’s Miami win but was not suspended by the league.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the veteran guard Hinrich underwent a second MRI this week. Thibodeau said the results were “basically” the same as the first, although Hinrich’s feeling better.

More on the series on’s Heat-Bulls series hub.

Intensity, Physicality Shift To Chicago’s Court

CHICAGO – Symbolically at least, the changeover crew at the United Center should have left the hockey boards up for Game 3 of the Chicago Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat Friday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Given how significantly the intensity and physical play were dialed up for Game 2 in Miami – a 115-78 Heat victory that not only stuck the Bulls with the most lopsided loss in their NBA playoff history but punked them, too – the shift to Chicago’s home ice, er, court figures to ratchet up again.

“Because of the technicals and ejections, there might be a perception it’s going above and beyond basketball – it’s not,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have two physical teams. Type A personalities.”

Two alpha dogs that don’t particularly like each other. “They don’t like us. We don’t like them,” LeBron James said. “We have to carry that same aggression, that same attitude into Game 3.”

The Bulls got worse than they gave in Game 2, from the scoreboard, from the stats sheet (pounded 56-18 in the paint, coughing up 28 points on 19 turnovers), from the referees (six technical fouls and ejections of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson) and from Miami in general in first strikes and aggressiveness. The Heat presumably won’t show up Friday night with Birdwoman – the snarling blonde matron who displayed her singular talent in Noah’s face – but they will have Birdman Andersen, as well as a roster full of defending champs and first-time ring seekers eager to meet their first serious road challenge of the postseason (Milwaukee, for two quick games in Round 1, was embarrassingly hospitable in every way).

Meanwhile, the Bulls — already undermanned without Luol Deng (illness), Kirk Hinrich (bruised calf) and Derrick Rose (knee rehab) – will have to calibrate their physical play; they don’t have the manpower to absorb needless ejections, technicals or personal fouls. They will, however, have crowd muscle in their packed, raucous arena.

For fans at the United Center, upraised middle fingers are part of the daily commute, so they’ll be antsy to up the ante or, at least, the decibels. And as far as that league-wide trend this season of Heat “hate” dissipating – in apparent appreciation of James’, Dwyane Wade‘s and other Heat players’ excellence, along with more folks in Miami garb infiltrating more buildings – let’s just say Chicagoans never got that memo.

It’s a potentially combustible mix: a road team determined to not get pushed around the way it did last time in the UC (the end of Miami’s 27-game winning streak), some cranky hosts ready to assert home court, a boisterous, Friday-night crowd primed to play some role in the series and three referees bringing fresh eyes to a pivotal contest toting two games’ worth of baggage.

Somewhere within that Chicago will have to find ways to protect the rim better – a 41-28 rebounding disparity and no blocks/few altered shots against the Heat’s heavy interior attack proved fatal, even before all the jawing and theatrics at ref Scott Foster and his crew.

“I don’t want to put it on the officials,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If it doesn’t go your way, you can’t allow it to impact your next play. You can’t allow it to get you sidetracked so you don’t do your job. You have to have the ability to do your job all the time. You have to have great concentration.”

One area of concentration for Miami after Game 1 was Nate Robinson, the fireplug Chicago guard who was a reasonable Rose facsimile that night (27 points, nine assists, 10 free throws). Heavy defensive attention from James never was needed, but the Heat’s own point guards and other defenders made life more miserable for Robinson. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting and four turnovers to two assists.

“They’re the world champions for a reason and they played like it,” Robinson said. “We just flat-out sucked.”

At the other end, Miami had to be please that it played fast, hit 3-point looks that clanged off in Game 1 and shook some extra rust off Wade, who scored eight of his 17 points in the decisive 30-15 third quarter. He shot 7-11, hitting his final six after a 1-for-5 start.

In personnel, the series grinds on as a mismatch – Miami boasting three of the top league’s top 20 players (and No. 1 overall), Chicago missing three guys from its preferred eight-man rotation. In intangibles, the Bulls do have the homecourt edge now, though United Center was where the Heat snuffed Chicago’s postseason in Game 5 of the 2012 East finals.

“It’s more than just not liking them,” Noah said. “It’s just two teams that want to win.”

So expect contact. Expect booing. Expect basketball. Expect whistles. Expect whining. Expect double-digit leads and comebacks. Expect single-finger salutes, too – right now the series stands 1-1-1.

Bulls’ Deng Still Ailing, Weakened

If there’s any player participating in the Eastern Conference semifinal series between Chicago and Miami who could afford to lose 15 pounds in a week, it might be the Heat’s Chris Andersen. And even then only if it was all ink.

Instead, it was Bulls forward Luol Deng reporting that sudden weight loss — just one of the ill effects of his battle first with illness and then with complications of a spinal-tap procedure performed last week to rule out viral meningitis. Deng, a two-time All-Star, has not played since Game 5 of the first round against Brooklyn, his condition worsening and requiring multiple trips to the hospital after his body was found to be leaking spinal fluid from the initial diagnostic procedure.

He underwent a “blood patch” treatment to stop the leak but told reporters at the Bulls’ practice facility in north suburban Chicago that he had lost 15 pounds and still was suffering from headaches as his body heals from the ordeal. As Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald reported:

Deng appears to be on the mend, but his body is low on spinal fluid, which surrounds and helps protect the brain. There’s really no telling when he might be able to play basketball again.

“I wish whatever you take out, you could put it back in,” Deng said. “It’s just your body’s got to make the fluid back up. I’m doing everything I can. I’m staying hydrated. The biggest thing is, really, eating. I’ve got to try to get my appetite back and eat as much as I can.”

Coach Tom Thibodeau called Deng’s status day-to-day, but there’s no chance he’ll play in Friday’s Game 3 against Miami at the United Center. After that, the teams will get two days off before Game 4 on Monday, and even that seems unlikely for a return.

Not having Deng – an all-purpose player on whom Thibodeau leans more even than a healthy Derrick Rose – is just one of Chicago’s manpower problems. Rose remains out — despite countless rumors, criticism and backlash defenses — from the knee injury he suffered April 28, 2012. Rose’s replacement, Kirk Hinrich, had a second MRI exam on the calf bruise that has sidelined him since Game 4 vs. the Nets.

Then there was forward Taj Gibson, who was waiting to hear if the NBA would further penalize him after his ejection from Game 2 at Miami Wednesday. Gibson probably will be fined for his profane outburst at referee Scott Foster and slow departure from the court but it’s possible the league could suspend him for a game.

The Bulls’ suffered the worst playoff setback in franchise history at AmericanAirlines Arena Wednesday, falling 115-78 as the defending champion Heat pulled even at 1-1 in the best-of-seven series.

Blogtable: Playoff Underdogs

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Week 28: Favorite playoff underdog | Heat’s stumble | P.J. and Vinny

Who’s your favorite playoff underdog, the Warriors or Bulls?

Steve Aschburner: The Bulls. Being based in Chicago, I’ve seen this team more than any other — and most of the time, it is overcoming some injury, mishap, illness or absence. It’s no longer just a Tom Thibodeau phenomenon, their coach stubbornly and without excuse driving them through adversity. It’s the whole team manning up without Derrick Rose, without Kirk Hinrich, without whomever, and new guys without much track record for grit (Marco Belinelli) or selflessness (Nate Robinson) pulling on the same rope as if they’d been in that locker room for years. From Game 7 in Brooklyn to their Game 1 on Miami’s court, the underdog Bulls already have experienced a level of exhilaration and accomplishment that talented, three-star championship teams never know.

Fran Blinebury: You love these “Which of your children do you like best?” questions. Let’s face it. While we can admire and respect the work ethic, the attitude and the intensity of the Bulls, what little kid ever grew up in the backyard or on a schoolyard fantasizing about grinding out possessions and getting bloody fighting for rebounds? In the game of our dreams, it’s all about being Steph Curry hitting ridiculous, unbelievable shots from anywhere on the court, Jarrett Jack being utterly fearless, Klay Thompson getting it done at both ends and everything being played at warp speed. I’d be happy to watch the Warriors play into June, July, August or September.

Joakim Noah (by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Joakim Noah (by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan: No question it’s the Bulls. Hey, I love the Warriors just like everybody else, but they’re essentially a young, healthy team (Brandon Rush was lost at the start of the season) on the come and led by an emerging superstar. They’re a great feel-good story, but the Bulls have proven time and again to be the ultimate warriors. How in the world is this banged-up and depleted club, one that keeps absorbing blows — a spinal tap gone wrong for Luol Deng, I mean, WTH? — in the second round and up 1-nil on the champs. Because nobody outworks the Bulls. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Scott Howard-Cooper: I’ll go Golden State, even with the running start of Bulls 1-0 and Warriors 0-1. Chicago is pretty special at dealing with, or even ignoring, adversity, but is still bigger underdogs than Golden State. The Warriors are closer to the Spurs in talent level, have the hottest hand of the postseason (Stephen Curry) and are doing fine at ignoring as well. The Warriors had more of a chance from the start. One game doesn’t change that, for either option.

John Schuhmann: Well, the Bulls are the true underdog, aren’t they? They’re facing the defending champs, the world’s best player, and a team that had lost just two of its previous 43 games before Monday. They’re a M.A.S.H. unit of injuries and illnesses. They’re carried offensively by a guy who’s barely taller than Sekou. Their best (active) player has a ponytail, wears le coq sportif shoes, and shoots a jumper like he’s playing paper football. And they have the most disheveled-looking coach in the league! This is no contest.

Sekou Smith: This is a tough one. It’s like asking who do you like better, Miss America or Miss Universe. You’re right no matter who or what you choose. I love the Warriors’ style and the fact that Steph Curry can turn a game upside down in minutes with his scoring and shooting. But my pick is the Bulls. Any team capable of doing the things they’ve done, under these circumstances, has earned my attention and the favorite status. Tom Thibodeau has turned the bottom third of his roster into a wicked playoff machine over the the past five days. They’re doing it with defense, fueled by the relentless Joakim Noah and the surprising Jimmy Butler. But they’ve also got the best fourth quarter scorer in the playoffs (Nate Robinson) driving the bus late in games. How can you not love what the Black-and-Blue Bulls are doing?

Lang Whitaker: The Warriors are obviously fun to watch, but it’s hard to root against the Bulls. They’ve got more guys missing than they have healthy, or at least it feels that way. Also, the Bulls have a cast of characters who we’ve seen try and fail with other franchises, from Nate Robinson to Marco Belinelli, so it feels as though there’s some great quest for redemption. Also, it doesn’t hurt that their coach, Tom Thibodeau, looks like he’s being played by the King of Queens, Kevin James.