Awakened Heat undress Bulls by 37 to even series 1-1

85 Comments

In Game 1, Chicago outworked the Heat and we saw what the Heat look like when things don’t go their way.

In Game 2 Wednesday night, Miami outworked the Bulls and we saw what the Bulls looked like when things don’t go their way —it was ugly. Like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson get ejected ugly. And that was probably good for them, they didn’t have to witness any more of this game.

In the end it was a 115-78 Heat win, the worst loss in Bulls playoff history. It looked like what you most feared could happen when an injury-riddled team ran into a highly motivated, talented side. And to make it worse when things went poorly for them the Bulls lost their composure.

The series is tied 1-1 and heading back to Chicago where you know the Bulls will put up a better fight. We’ll see if that is enough.

A few things went much better for the Heat in Game 2 (compared to their Game 1 loss), and that started with LeBron James. His 19 points and 9 assists are not dominating numbers, but early in the game he started to open things up with his drives — he started 6-of-6 in the first quarter and all the shots were in the restricted area. He got to the rim. The Bulls adjusted to that but then he dished out to shooters, things opened up for the Heat offense and the rout started to be on.

The other key was the Heat defense shut down the good looks the Bulls got in Game 1 — and Chicago couldn’t knock down the bad looks they hit anyway in Game 1. Nate Robinson, who has been the catalyst for the Bulls hitting pull up jumpers and dicing up opposing defenses, started out 0-of-4 from the floor and finished the game 3-of-10 for 11 points.

As a team the Bulls shot just 35.5 percent against a much more active Heat defense for the game.

The first half of the game had no flow, and while we’d like to credit the defenses for that we should really thank the referees — there were 28 personal fouls, five technical fouls and one flagrant foul all in the first half (nine techs for the game). While the game was more physical and at times chippy, the referes seemed to try to control the emotions with their whistles. Sometimes bad whistles (both ways, the referees were equal opportunity bad). That worked about as well as it always does.

Because of the lack of flow and both teams struggled from the floor for stretches, but the Heat still started finding points behind LeBron, who had all 19 of his points at the half. The Bulls helped with that — Chicago turnovers became Miami transition points. The Heat were not blowing out the Bulls much of the first 24 minutes, but they seemed more comfortable and were getting cleaner looks. Miami led 55-41 at the break.

Then in the third quarter the Heat blew it all wide open. Miami shot 59.1 percent in the quarter to Chicago’s 23.5 percent (4-of-17) and that led to a 30-15 third quarter romp for the Heat. The Heat lead was 19 by the end of the quarter and the fourth was really just extended garbage time.

Marco Belinelli led the Bulls in scoring with 13 points, but he needed 13 shots to get there. Ray Allen led the Heat with 21 points and Miami got a good game out of Norris Cole at both ends — 18 points and he is part of the reason Nate Robinson struggled.

The Bulls will play better and keep it closer once they get on their home turf. You know no Tom Thibodeau team will roll over, regardless of who does or doesn’t suit up for Game 3.

But will it be enough remains the question. The Heat had a lot of things go their way in Game 2, but they also looked vastly superior overall. It wasn’t perfect for Miami — Dwyane Wade still looked hobbled and LeBron didn’t need to score but he could. Yet the Heat defense was more what we saw during the season and the Bulls had no answers for all of it put together. And that frustrated them.

They won’t be frustrated next game, but with not a lot of arrows in the quiver it will be a lot harder for Tom Thibodeau to respond.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

Leave a comment

James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.