Miami kept it interesting, but the Bulls outmatched them
After a nerve-filled win in his first trip back to Miami this season, Dwyane Wade led the Bulls to a 105-100 victory in his first career home game against the Heat. He finished with 28 points (on 11 of 24 shooting), three rebounds, three assists, and two blocks in another tightly contested matchup with his former franchise.
Wade did most of his damage in the third quarter, leading the Bulls on a big run to open the half. He had a field day pump-faking a litany of young Heat defenders into layups and open looks. Jimmy Butler took over down the stretch to finish with 31 points himself and ensure a Bulls victory. Butler was typically excellent, making eight of 15 shots but impressively converting 15 of a career-high 16 free throw attempts. He added seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
Chicago’s previously problematic bench appears to have been largely stabilized with the return of Doug McDermott and the emergence of Cristiano Felicio in the rotation. For the third straight game, Felicio provided strong minutes at center on both ends of the floor. He grabbed seven rebounds—including four critical offensive boards in the first half—and notched six points in only 17 minutes.
McDermott still appeared to be finding his rhythm in only his second game back from an extended absence due to a concussion. He missed both three point attempts as Miami successfully kept him away from open looks. Doug will have to do better there, as the Bulls are already the league’s most three-point deficient team. He did add a couple nice drives to the basket, scoring eight points in 26 minutes.
Nikola Mirotic turned in another fine game with nine points and five rebounds in 22 strong minutes off the bench. He’s struggled badly with his shot thus far this season, but Mirotic is shooting 48 percent overall and 38 percent from distance over his last four games while averaging just over 10 points. His minutes are guaranteed regardless, but the Bulls can be a lot more dangerous if Niko has found his stroke again.
While McDermott and Felicio have shored up two of the holes in the Bulls’ rotation, backup point guard continues to be a glaring weakness. After riding Isaiah Canaan the last few weeks, Fred Hoiberg gave him a DNP and elected to play Denzel Valentine and Jerian Grant for one short stint each. The two combined for two points and zero assists in 11 minutes. Michael Carter-Williams is not yet ready to return, so Hoiberg will have to keep digging for solutions. More Wade and Butler at the point is likely the only feasible one.
That will only serve to make it more difficult to limit Butler’s minutes, as he notched another 38 tonight and continues to shoot up the NBA leaderboard. It’s understandable that Hoiberg must often rely on Butler’s insane versatility to keep the Bulls in games, but Miami is one of the worst teams in the league. If Fred can’t find Jimmy more bench time in a game like tonight’s, Butler is in for a Thibodeau-ian workload yet again.
Hassan Whiteside got off to a hot start, showing off impressive touch in the paint for a seven-footer. The Bulls quickly got under his skin, though, exposing his lacking help and off-ball defense. Chicago forced Whiteside into four fouls in the third quarter alone, as he was almost a complete non-factor in the second half. He still finished with 20 points and three blocks, underlining the frustrating potential of the 27-year-old center.
It was Goran Dragic who kept Miami close all night with his aggressive and energetic drives and zip passes around the halfcourt. Rajon Rondo badly struggled to stay with him, consistently allowing the Slovenian point guard to find open shots and teammates. He scored 21 points along with 11 assists to keep the Bulls from ever pulling away. In turn, Rondo posted just four points and six assists in 33 largely ineffective minutes.
In the end, the Bulls thankfully had enough in the tank to put away a depleted Heat team. In addition to losing Wade, Chris Bosh, and Luol Deng this offseason, Miami was without their exciting young wing, Justise Winslow, and Dion Waiters. Erik Spoelstra remains one of the NBA’s premier head coaches, even when saddled with a subpar roster.