Posts Tagged ‘Kirk Hinrich’

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, NBA.com’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.


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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 NBA.com 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 NBA.com’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.

Down 0-1? More Wake-Up Than Worry For Miami

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MIAMI – The Chicago Bulls were healthier and, back then, had the NBA’s newly named Most Valuable Player on their side. The Miami Heat were still a relative work in progress, talented and scary but also sorting and sifting near the end of Big 3, volume 1.

The Bulls whupped that crew by 21 points in the opener of the 2011 Eastern Conference championship series, held the home-court edge and looked for a couple days as if they were headed for the Finals.

Ahem. The Heat won the next four games, the first two by double digits each, the next in overtime, the last with a 19-4 rush over the final 3:36 to win by three.

The Miami team of postseason 2013 is more dangerous and highly evolved, with the league’s best player at the peak of his powers. Chicago is missing three guys (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich) from its preferred eight- or nine-man rotation. So there really shouldn’t be a problem, should there?

Yes, the Heat dropped the opener of the teams’ East semifinals series Monday. But LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest have trailed in five of the 10 playoff series they have played since coming together in the summer of 2010. But they have roared back four times – three times last spring against Indiana, Boston and Oklahoma City. Only against Dallas in 2011 did they slip behind (3-2) and stay behind.

That should alleviate any hand-wringing about the here and now, right?

“We’ve been there,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our experiences have taught us a lot of things, but that does nothing for us right now. We have to fight for our playoff lives.”

The challenge for the Heat on Tuesday, practicing in advance of Game 2, was to find the right line between unruffled and overreacting. Some considered the Bulls’ 93-86 Game 1 victory a wake-up call, a shock to their system, a shot across the Miami guys’ bows. Others felt the Heat played well, that too much was made of James’ facilitating first half (just two points scored) and that extreme adjustments would be the biggest mistake the defending champions could make at this point.

“When you lose a game, your ears seem to work better,” said forward Shane Battier of the team’s mood in practice. “You seem more open for adjustments and you see to tune up the effort a little more in the next game.”

Said James: “We executed, we missed shots, we had good looks. … It ain’t about X’s and O’s in this series. It’s about the will and determination to win the series. For both teams.”

That didn’t stop Spoelstra from immersing the Heat in a lengthy video session. But what it confirmed again and again was that they got a lot of good, even open shots that they simply did not knock down. By James count, six of Battier’s seven 3-pointers were wide open, as were three of Mike Miller‘s four. Combined they made only three of those 11.

That had more to do with the outcome in James’ view than his alleged lack of aggression. He scored 22 of his 24 points after halftime.

“My shooters have gotten us to this point. They’ve made shots over the season,” James said. “I’ve got trust in them. We still had a chance to win the game, no matter what I was doing in the first half or not.

Spoelstra, James and the others did see some breakdowns offensively in the game’s final minutes and an unacceptable brand of defense (35 points allowed) in the fourth quarter. When James and Wade attacked the rim, they looked more interested in avoiding Bulls center Joakim Noah as a shot-blocker than they did in forcing the issue physically. As a result, James got the foul line less often than his defender, Jimmy Butler and Wade didn’t shoot a free throw at all.

Still, Wade said, “There were a lot of encouraging things throughout the game. That was the kind of game where you’re not playing as good as you want to be, but good teams find a way to grind it out and get the win.”

Chicago played harder and got rewarded. The Bulls, if they’re smart, will remain on the run because they have manpower issues and a roster stretched thin by injuries. Hinrich (calf bruise) still was limping after their team meeting Tuesday at their downtown Miami hotel and said he’d had only marginal improvement from rest and treatment.

Deng (spinal tap complications) still was in Chicago, posting on social media a photo of himself in his hospital bed that was a mystery to some in the Bulls’ camp (was that taken during Game 7 vs. Brooklyn? Or Game 1 Monday?) The best option with the All-Star forward would seem to be patience until Game 3 at United Center or later. As for Rose, that remains a “no,” with the faintest hint of “you’re-kidding-right?”

So the Bulls will try to remain a moving target, with the Heat likely to challenge Noah, attack Butler and pressure Nate Robinson more. Obviously, they don’t want to be satisfied with getting one of two at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“We’ve played this team a lot so we know their tendencies pretty well. But every game of thes playoff series is chess,”Noah said. “We’re going to go back to the film room, see the things that we could have done better. … it almost becomes like you know their sets before they even run them.

“We’ve been in this situation before where we won Game 1 .We were all very, very excited about it. And they ran us over.”

Heat Not Lulled By Bulls’ Inactives

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MIAMI – As usual, the Chicago Bulls are undermanned, so they should have the Miami Heat precisely where they want them.

Only the Heat are wise to that game. As far as the defending champions are concerned, the Bulls not only have Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich available for Game 1 and each subsequent contest in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, they might as well have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Norm Van Lier.

“We don’t play the personnel, we play the jerseys. We play the team,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said, avoiding any discussion of specific absent Bulls players. “This team proved that no matter who’s in the lineup, they’re going to be competitive and they’re going to do the little things that’s going to give them the opportunity to win games.”

With Rose (knee surgery) a constant all seasons and Hinrich (bruised calf) a game-time decision, Deng is the most pressing and serious. The illness that led to his precautionary spinal tap led to a complication that sent him back to the hospital over the weekend. Deng’s plan, after the Bulls’ Game 7 first-round victory at Brooklyn Saturday, was to meet the Bulls in south Florida for the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

But he was not in Miami Monday for shootaround sessions and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he didn’t know if Deng would travel in time for Game 2 or await the series’ shift to Chicago.

That wasn’t anything that the Heat players were willing to engage.

“No change,” forward Chris Bosh said when asked about Deng. “It’s all the same. I’m tellin’ ya, that’s how you get beat. You think that just because Deng’s not playing, you look at the other guy and change your mindset. That’s when things start to go wrong. So we can all learn from Brooklyn’s mistake.”

With Deng, with Rose, with Hinrich, with whomever, Bosh said, Miami is approaching the series as if all Bulls are ready to hit the streets of Pamplona.

The All-Star power forward did watch Game 7 of Nets-Bulls, however, in which Chicago produced one of the great upsets in recent NBA playoff history. Star-laden teams never get the chance to know the exhilaration of giant-killing quite like that.

“Yeah. I mean, my days in Toronto I know what the underdog feels like but we never had a chance to win a playoff series or anything like that,” Bosh said. “Honestly, I don’t want to be in that position.

“It really just comes down to playing the game. You can’t really worry about who’s the underdog and who’s the favorite. If you sleep on those guys, if you think you just have to show up to win the game, you’re wrong. Chicago has a work ethic. They’re going to play together, they’re going to make it tough. And if you underestimate them, you will get beat.”

The Heat and the Bulls split their four meetings this season. Miami last played on April 28, and it’s eight-day layoff is the longest between series of its three-season run since Wade, Bosh and LeBron James joined forces in 2010.

Missing Rose, Or What Rose Is Missing?





MIAMI – So much of this NBA season for the Chicago Bulls, especially in these playoffs, has been about missing Derrick Rose.

Not anymore. At this point, it’s all about what Derrick Rose is missing.

The script officially flipped Saturday night when the Bulls pulled off their stunning, wholly unexpected Game 7 upset of the Brooklyn Nets. Rose was there but he was there in a suit again, no more a part of what really mattered in the arena than the guy wielding the T-shirt cannon.

Wait, that’s not quite right – Rose did play a role in making it remarkable with his very uninvolvement. The Bulls did not have their leader and their superstar, again,  in circumstances that should have doomed them – and then they went about their business as they have all season. Or in Joakim Noah‘s case, with some frenzied, divine, determined intervention.

No Derrick? No problem. No problem too great, anyway.

A too-familiar sight: Chicago's Derrick Rose on the bench. (by Gary Dineen/NBAE)

A too-familiar sight: Chicago’s Derrick Rose cheering, not playing. (by Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Rose was in a suit and Kirk Hinrich was in a suit and Luol Deng was back home in Chicago, and still the Bulls beat the offensively gifted and favored Nets to advance to the playoffs’ second round. It was merely the latest in a season of highlight nights and indelible memories missed by Rose during his recovery from knee surgery last May.

He missed the victory in Miami in January in Chicago’s first meeting with the defending champions and assorted undermanned victories before and since. He missed the Bulls’ run of three straight overtime games in four nights, two on the road, two of which went their way. He missed the game at United Center in late March when the Heat, after stomping pretty much the rest of the league, had their winning streak stopped at 27 games (second-longest in NBA history) by a team, wow, still missing its star.

Because Rose and the team’s front office committed to a cautious approach to his rehab and return – the Bulls and their medical staff overseeing but ultimately empowering Rose and his advisers to make the decisions – the laconic icon hasn’t been a part of anything all season. Even as his absence has defined and made this season special for those who have been a part of it.

Now, Rose is missing this, at least four games and as many as seven against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest. It could have been a classic. Remember when Rose took his stand about not working his cell phone in the offseason and recruiting help by courting his competition, it came across as a direct response to the AAU buddy-ball brainstorming of James, Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Neither the Heat nor Rose was fully formed when the two sides met for the first time in the postseason in 2011, but the storyline now, with Rose’s very MVP-ness that year being questioned again, would have been must-see: Some guys want to play with the best, other guys want to beat the best.

The storyline, as is, is pretty compelling. It’s underdogs and Cinderella and, frankly, it’s sad. Because Rose is missing out on the full experience of what his Bulls teammates are. Guys like Rose never fully know what it feels like to be overlooked and underrated because, no matter how humble and unassuming they might be (and that’s no act with Rose), they are their teammates’ swagger. Stars like Rose don’t know what it’s like to have their chances dismissed. Stars like Rose look into fans’, friends’ and family eyes and see hope twinkling.

Maybe one time in the pros, before the end of Rose’s rookie year in 2009, he might seen doubt in people’s eyes. But then he had his coming-out party as a future NBA star, the seventh-seeded Bulls pushing the mighty Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round. Since then, Rose has been the man; when he plays and, without interruption for more than a year now, when he doesn’t.

In the end, Rose is missing a lot. Early in the Brooklyn series, Bulls forward Taj Gibson talked about Rose’s view and words from the bench. “He was just eager,” Gibson said. “He was just saying like, he can’t wait to get back, he can’t wait to play. And just critiquing the game, talking about what we needed to do, what kind of plays. He knew a lot of the sets coming out so he would just scream out plays. He was just hyped talking about good stuff.”

As frustrating as it is for Bulls and NBA fans to wonder what this Eastern Conference semifinal series might be like with Rose involved, as puzzled as they all are by his erring on the side of caution or his timidity or his whatever it is, they can assume that Rose is frustrated too. Or should be.

So don’t be disappointed by Derrick Rose. Be disappointed for him.

Rose Not Walking Through Game 7 Door


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If ever there was going to be the perfect, if overdue, moment for Derrick Rose to return to action for the Chicago Bulls, it would be a Game 7 in the NBA playoffs, with his team desperate for help, facing the Brooklyn Nets in a hostile building …

Stop. Rose won’t be walking through that door for the Bulls Saturday night, even if he does have more spring in his step than Willis Reed did 43 years ago on the other side of the East River, limping back for a Game 7 and straight into sports mythology. The Captain only stuck around long enough to hit two shots and inspire the New York Knicks to their first championship. Rose would seem to have that much in him, in what would likely be a 15-20 minutes limit whenever he actually does return to action. And of course we’re wasting our time and our typing here.

After all, Rose’s extended layoff from knee surgery last May – we’re at 51 weeks now – could have had its perfect ending in Game 6 Thursday at United Center, where a packed arena’s warm embrace for however long he lasted might have been enough to propel the Bulls into the second round already. It could have come two weeks ago, synchronized to the start of a postseason he missed last spring. It could have come last month or sometime after the All-Star break, when word began leaking out from behind the practice curtains that, in 5-on-5 scrimmaging, that the 2011 MVP was looking as good as ever.

The arc of Rose’s repair and rehabilitation from ACL surgery has gone from anticipatory to antsy to anticlimax. It has overstayed its welcome in the Windy City, like the occasional stubborn winter, and as with the Chicago Cubs’ ridiculous drought, a numbness and a whole lot of scoffing is settling in for some folks. If they did not laugh, they would cry.

But there’s more floating out there than jokes. During the Game 5 telecast Monday, TNT analyst Steve Kerr was critical of Rose for his refusal to take that last big step of rehab, testing all that work and dedication where it matters most, in an NBA game, for a team in need. Multiple Bulls players have been pushing through bruises, pain and illness, while Rose still monitors the repair of a year-old injury (April 28, 2012, to be exact).

“I know I’ve kind of changed my mind,” Kerr said on-air. “I’ve really supported the Bulls and Derrick with the way they’ve handled it. I think you err on the side of caution. But I think where the Bulls are now with this series with [backup point guard] Kirk Hinrich struggling with the calf injury — if Derrick is OK and there’s no threat to further injury, I think he’s got to play.”

It’s that kind of talk, not just from Kerr but all over sports-radio airwaves and the Internet, that has dinged Rose’s reputation. As beloved in his short career as any Chicago sports star save one, Rose’s hesitancy to play until he’s fully “comfortable” or regains “muscle memory” has some people questioning his courage, his character, his commitment, you name it. It is as irrational as it was inevitable with a layoff this long, fan stuff of impatience mixed with the coverage of the other hobbled Bulls as “gamers.”

Rose told reporters at the Bulls’ shootaround Saturday in New York that he hadn’t heard the criticism. “That’s my first time hearing about it,” he said in another too-rare media moment. “I barely turn on the TV. I’m with my son all day so that’s about it.”

None of the second-guessing is coming from the organization or his teammates. Coach Tom Thibodeau and Hinrich, as all of them have for months, gave Rose absolute votes of confidence Wednesday. Still, the Bulls and Rose failed each other by failing to keep everyone – not just themselves but the media and the fans – in the loop. They let him, his agents, his family and his sneaker partners (adidas) dictate the terms of communication, kept at a trickle, that bled away empathy and heightened suspicions. Monthly sit-downs with Bulls reporters would have provided better feedback, kept Rose’s affable personality front and center and calmed if not satisfied the locals.

The Bulls also should have avoided distractions, speculation and all this angst by shutting down Rose’s will-he-or-won’t-he return about six weeks ago. Did they really want to overlay the learning curve of his return onto their playoff preparation, risking other guys’ roles and rhythms? Did they seriously consider throwing him raw out there against a Brooklyn backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson? Would they seriously put Rose as red meat in front of the Dobermans from Miami, if they made it to the next round?

Come on. Who’s believes this stuff?

There would have been nothing wrong had Rose and the Bulls tossed the entire 2012-13 season aside and simply let everyone know the plan, assuming they had a plan. If this truly was matter of, physically and mentally waking up each day and gauging his health and his confidence, OK, fine. Even that would have gone done better if not for the elaborate, expensive series of shoe commercials – “The Return” – that made it look as if Bulls fans would be getting Rose as “Rocky” sooner rather than later.

The long, unsatisfying NBA season in Chicago is nearing an end. When Rose does come back in October, he’ll turn this all into a win-win: Show rust and people will nod, agreeing finally (and probably wrongly, since rust is part of these things whenever) that he needed another five months. Play great and the uber-cautious strategy will seem like genius, and the teeth-gnashing of this spring will fade away.

It’s just difficult for a lot of folks over the next few hours or days knowing that – with Hinrich’s calf, Luol Deng‘s illness, Joakim Noah‘s plantar fasciitis, Taj Gibson‘s knee and Nate Robinson‘s towel-and-bucket routine Thursday – the healthiest guy on the Chicago roster might be Derrick Rose.