CHICAGO | The first thing last night was the weather--the Chicago weather. It sucked. This is the time of the year when people start moving their heavy coats and portable heaters back into storage, but it's also the time when the optimistic lose sight of the fact that this is a nothern town, located on the shore of a vast, inland sea, and when the Canadian wind blows, it feels nothing like springtime. On Thursday, the wind was blowing so hard off the lake that it was a hard to walk through, and the gale made the already-frigid 34-degree temperature downright unbearable.
So what does the weather have to do with an NBA game, played indoors? With the Heat in town--a team so named because of the sunshiney weather of southern Florida--the grim day served as a public service warning against the city of Chicago. And the featured attraction on the Heat, a Chicago native named Dwyane Wade, is a player the Bulls would very much like to sign about 13 weeks from now. If Wade had forgotten how brutal even the Chicago spring can be, Thursday's climate served as a nice, brisk slap in the face.
Of course, Wade isn't going to make his free-agent decision based on the weather is he? Would you? Chicago is a world-class city and us hardy Midwesterners take pride in our ability to outlast Old Man Winter. Perhaps Wade does, too, and we already know he likes to spend his summers here. So let's not read to much into the weather on Thursday, ill-timed as it may have been. But, really, it sucked. And once the game tipped off, so did the Bulls.
The game was a complete and utter disaster for the Bulls. With Chicago two games out of the last playoff spot in the East, and 3-1/2 games back of Miami, the Bulls had a golden opportunity to make up ground and show a national audience on TNT how serious they are about getting into the postseason. Instead, the Bulls trailed by 12 after one quarter, 30 at the half and 37 after three. Anything can happen, but this might have been the final nail in the Bulls' coffin. Sure, the gap between Chicago and Toronto is far from insurmountable, but if you can't win a game in that situation at home against a mediocre Miami team, what chance do you really have?
Poss oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO% THCH
First Quarter 25 124.9 .571 .000 .333 .040 6.41
Second Quarter 24 134.1 .659 .000 .136 .084 5.94
Third Quarter 21 132.7 .625 .500 .150 .190 4.32
Fourth Quarter 19 62.3 .219 .100 .313 .104 3.33
FIRST HALF 49 129.4 .616 .200 .233 .064 6.17
SECOND HALF 40 99.1 .444 .263 .222 .071 3.35
FINAL 87 118.2 .538 .237 .228 .103 5.00
Poss oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO% THCH
First Quarter 25 76.5 .326 .154 .174 .121 5.40
Second Quarter 24 58.7 .263 .214 .211 .168 3.82
Third Quarter 21 75.8 .368 .222 .105 .142 4.08
Fourth Quarter 19 129.7 .452 .462 .286 .104 5.02
FIRST HALF 49 67.8 .298 .185 .190 .150 4.61
SECOND HALF 40 101.5 .413 .381 .200 .062 4.33
FINAL 87 84.9 .354 .265 .195 .138 4.58
NOTE: THCH is an estimate of team touches per minute
GAME FLOW COMMENTS
(These are the notes that I typed to myself during the game. Presented as is ... no attempt at cleaning them up or to provide context.)
FIRST QUARTER: Big game at the UC! Playoff hopes on the line, despite what VDN says ... Arroyo still starting in place of Chalmers--interesting contrast. One shoots all threes; the other doesn't shoot any ... Wade is a bad matchup for everybody, but for Hinrich, his strength is a problem ... Rose hits first shot, a jumper. Has been less aggressive off the dribble since he got hurt ... Heat trying to expoit O'Neal/Miller matchup early ... Like JJ working on Richardson, but he can't be too aggressive w/ his help ... JJ called for carrying for second straight game. Needs to learn how to make his moves without so much dribbling ... JJ makes a shot fake f/ 3, dribbles in a couple of steps, then fires a leaner two over the basket. Not under control ... It's 10-10 halfway t/ 1Q, Heat O has been Wade breaking down D & leaving for O'Neal, who has 8 pts ... It's 17-10 as Heat continue to pound Bulls inside. O'Neal has 10 pts. Pace is very slow, which favors Miami ... Five assists for Wade in first 10m ... Heat are blizting Rose and forcing him to give ball up early in each possession; Bulls offense is stagnant. Vinny needs to create cutting lanes for players opened on double team ... Taj has been big--8p 5r ... Mia 31-19 after 1Q.
SECOND QUARTER: Noah checking in at 9:35, with Bulls down 37-20 ... Acie Law comes in in relief of Rose. Pargo is also in, 3G lineup ... Bulls are slow, slow, slow. Damn guys, this is a BIG game. Chalmers three puts MIA up 49-28 ... Rose having trouble getting to the rim as Heat have size and do a great job protecting the rim, esp. Anthony ... Disgraceful effort by the Bulls. Getting pounded in every phase of the game ... Not many notes this quarter--was distracted by Syracuse loss ... Wade jumper puts Miami up 63-33 at the half. Crowd is not happy. Not happy at all.
THIRD QUARTER: Miami offense continues to pick apart the Bulls' defense. On the other end, turnover continue to plague Chicago. Rose looks fruturated ... Bulls still down 30; nothing is going to change unless they really begin to push the pace and put pressure on a team that lacks a starting point guard ... 24 pts for O'Neal 1/2 t/ 3Q ... Three guys in front of my got themselves kicked out. Can't blame 'em ... Bulls are down 39. I've ceased to pay attention.
FOURTH QUARTER: Vinny is playing the second unit and after a big early lead, Kansas State has allowed Xavier back in its game.
1. Miami can really defend.
The Heat has been rising in the Defensive Rating rankings all season and currently stand eighth in the NBA in holding down the opposition. Let's break their season down into quadrants:
QAD G OEFF DEFF NEFF PACE W L
A 18 108.1 108.5 -0.4 88.9 10 8
B 18 108.9 109.9 -1.0 89.4 8 10
C 18 111.2 105.2 +6.0 87.1 9 9
D 18 108.7 106.2 +2.6 86.6 11 7
TOT 72 109.2 106.0 +3.2 88.0 38 34
Miami is on pace to win 43 games, but has a POW of a 45-win team. The what-for can be found in quadrant 'C' when the Heat broke even during an 18-game stretch in which it outscored its opposition by six points per 100 possessions. During that span, Miami won six games by 24 or more points, including three by more than 30. That many extreme blowouts skews a team's numbers and, as you can see in the difference in the Heat's actual wins and expected POW wins, even a full season's worth of games isn't enough to completely smooth out the results. But we're talking defense here.
The Heat have been a much better defensive team during the second half of its schedule. Last night, I was struck by how well they defend the basket as the Bulls, including Derrick Rose, were continually frustrated in their forays to the hoop. Joel Anthony was a big factor, but so was Jermaine O'Neal and Udonis Haslem. Also, don't forget about Michael Beasley. Last year, he rated as a +5 defender in NBAPET. I dismissed that result because he came off the bench for the most part and rating the defense of reserves is even more unreliable than it is for starters. This season, Beasley has started all 68 games in which he's appeared and NBAPET has him at +3. It may not be all Beasley's doing, but Miami is not getting burned at that position. Also, the Heat currently lead the league in shot-blocking. Since Miami does such a good job locking down the paint, that allows Eric Spoelstra's guards to gamble and pressure the opposition. For the second straight season, Miami is in the league's top 10 in forcing turnovers.
As far as what's changed since the first half of the year, that's hard to say. The playing time of Mario Chalmers and James Jones has fallen, the latter more steeply than the former. In place of that pair, the court time of Carlos Arroyo and Dorell Wright has increased. O'Neal's per-minute block rate has increased by 44 percent. Pace may have something to do with it. The average possessions per game for Miami has fallen by about 2.3 trips per game during its last 36 outings; maybe they defend better at the slower pace. But none of these things really explain the defensive improvement. Miami is just playing better defense. In fact, that 105.7 Defensive Rating the Heat has posted during the second half of its schedule would rank them sixth in the league over the full season. If Miami can shoot the ball like it did in Chicago, it can be a tough out in the first round for whomever it plays, be it Boston, Orlando or Atlanta.
2. Joel Anthony has only one skill, but he's really good at it.
Anthony is the best percentage shot-blocker in the league this season, swatting 7.3 percent of the opposition's attempts while he's on the floor. Since he came into the league in 2007-08, only Chris Andersen has posted a higher percentage among players with at least 1,000 minutes during that span. (Hasheem Thabeet threatens to crush them both should he ever get the court time.) In the era of possession-based statistics (since 1976-77), only Andrei Kirilenko has posted a higher single-season block percentage than Anthony's current rate. (Among players listed at 6'9" and shorter, that is.) Anthony has extremely long arms and a powerful, compact build that allows him to act as a human pogo stick out on the floor. The Heat are 2.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Anthony is in the game. Why doesn't he play more? Miami is 5.9 points per 100 possessions worse on offense when Anthony plays. Despite being a player that never strays from the rim, Anthony has shot just .466 from the field in his career.
3. Way to rally the troops, Vinny.
Before the game, a reporter asked Vinny something about whether or not he'd communicated to his team the import of last night's encounter with the Heat. Vinny acted mock-puzzled by the question, then wanted to know why the question was asked. The reporter said, "Just say it's a big game, Vinny!" The exchange brought a lot of laughs, but once the game started, the chuckles stopped. It was a big game, the most important of the season for Chicago. Del Negro did not have his team ready to play. Stoicism has its place. Over 82 games, you don't want a team to get to high or too low. But when it matters, it matters. Last night, it mattered, but the Bulls didn't play like it.
4. Wade is the point guard.
We fret a lot over who plays point guard alongside Dwyane Wade but, in fact, Wade is the freaking point guard. He doesn't usually bring the ball down the court and he doesn't always initiate the offense, but he controls everything that happens in Miami's attack. He's got two players that alternate beside him. Carlos Arroyo is the playmaker and is a little better off the dribble; Mario Chalmers is a three-point bomber (miscast as that, by the way) and a gambler extraordinaire on defense. Both are point guards in name only the way they are used by Spoelstra. However, this does bring up a point regarding Wade's free agency and the Bulls' pursuit of the hometown star. In a Wade-Rose backcourt, who runs the show? Stylistically, it might not work, though superior talents often can find a way to make it work. Nevertheless, Wade might shy away from the pairing.
5. What lies ahead.
The Bulls are still in a soft spot in their schedule, but if their effort isn't any better than it was last night, then it doesn't matter whom they play. Up next is the Nets, who are highly motivated to get their ninth win and Jersey has already won on Chicago's home floor once this season.
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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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