CHICAGO — A 89-84 loss on a Monday night in late January has little significance, right?
While that is normally the case, the Chicago Bulls five-point defeat to a team who had lost 7 of its previous 8 games stings a little bit. Even more so when you factor in the momentum the Bulls had coming in on the heels of a 96-83 win over the defending eastern conference champion, Cleveland Cavaliers.
This contest at the United Center didn’t quite measure up to the intriguing playoffs matchups of yesteryear, nor should it.
With all that being said, this was a game the Bulls had to have against a wounded Miami team. Shot blocking phenom Hassan Whiteside (strained left hip) and point guard Goran Dragic (strained left calf) were ruled out hours before tip-off. However, Miami did have the services of Loul Deng, Beno Udrih, and 12-time NBA all-star Dwyane Wade who were all questionable with various injuries.
The Heat’s stretch prior to this game is uncommon for them as they were allowing over 100 points per contest during that period. Coach Spoelstra’s team is one of the leagues best in opponent’s points per game. In fact, they rank 3rd in the association at 95.8 points per game allowed, trailing only Cleveland and San Antonio. That was on full display Monday as they held the Bulls to 84 points on 39 percent shooting.
Miami’s defensive prowess and limitations on offense due to injury, would explain the sluggish start by both clubs. Eighteen total points were scored in the first 6 minutes and 44 seconds as the Heat led 10-8. The Bulls shot 33 percent in that span and held Miami to only 28 percent shooting but found themselves trailing by 2.
With that being said, it was the Pau Gasol show early. The 35-year old veteran scored the Bulls first nine points and had a double-double at the end of the first quarter. In fact, Gasol was the first player to record such a feat in the NBA this season,according to Bulls TV color analyst, Stacey King. Gasol would finish the contest with 19 points and 17 rebounds.
The first half didn’t decide much as two points separated the teams with the Bulls trailing 49-47 at intermission. However, the 2nd quarter featured Derrick Rose driving to basket and scoring on a layup. Problem is, that layup proved to be costly. Rose came down grimacing and was subsequently ruled out for the second half with lower back and right hamstring injuries.
Rose’s absence didn’t affect the Bulls in the third period as there was a nine point swing. What once was a two point Heat lead, turned into a seven point Bulls lead heading to the fourth quarter.
And that’s when the wheels fell off. Fred Hoiberg’s club was outscored by 12 in the final period, scoring a mere 16 points in 12 minutes. Rose’s injury loomed large in the fourth quarter as the absence of the MVP point guard forced the Bulls to play a half court offense instead of the up-tempo pace the Bulls normally like to play at. At one point, the Bulls went on a scoreless drought for over four minutes allowing the Heat to embark on a 11-2 run.
Dwyane Wade assumed the load as he tallied 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assist with 10 of those points coming in the 4th quarter. Forward Chris Bosh assumed the slack pitching in with 18 points, hitting an uncontested jump shot that gave Miami a two-point lead with 62 seconds remaining.
Monday night’s loss is alarming on a number of fronts. Not only does it serve as the forth-consecutive loss at the United Center, but also it negates any momentum gained in the win over the eastern conference’s top team. Additionally, the status of Derrick Rose remains unknown and now comes a 7-game road trip with five of those contests coming on the West Coast.
The Bulls are banged up, there’s no secret about that. Joakim Noah is likely out for the year with a shoulder injury. Chicago has no point guard depth with Kirk Hinrich, E’Twaun Moore, and now Derrick Rose all battling injury. Mike Dunleavy will travel with the team on this West Coast swing but his return isn’t likely until sometime in February.
In the NBA, opportunity is always around the corner. The Bulls have a chance for redemption as they square off against the hapless Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on Thursday. A win is paramount, as they want to get the road trip off to a good start. Indeed, a win is what they will need if they hope to capture the belief of Chicago Bulls fans nationwide.