By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune –
The Bulls roared into last season’s playoffs near full health and at full throttle, winners of nine straight and 21 of the final 23 regular-season games.
Contrast that to this season, where the Bulls probably long for the only issue being the turf toe that plagued Carlos Boozer last season.
Derrick Rose is nursing a sore right foot that should allow him to return for the final two regular-season games, if not Saturday against the defending NBA champion Mavericks. Luol Deng needed stitches to close a cut over his eye in his first game back after missing two with bruised ribs — and his left wrist ligament remains torn.
And the Bulls collectively suffered bruised pride and ego when the Heat outrebounded them, held them to a season-low 72 points and bullied them with three extracurricular physical incidents that drew no response.
The Bulls, who are 7-6 since losing at home to the Nuggets on March 26, received a lengthy lecture from coach Tom Thibodeau in the postgame locker room on the need to respond and be more physical.
“Respond means when somebody tries to put you on your heels, you never get on your heels,” said Richard Hamilton, who renewed his longstanding grudge match with Dwyane Wade that dates to his Pistons days. “You’re going through them the whole game. You don’t allow nobody to try to go through you. We have to do a better job to not allow them to do plays that put us on our heels.”
The Bulls have been on their heels for awhile now, which has placed their claim for the East’s top seed in jeopardy. The Heat, who trail by one game in the loss column, can capture homecourt advantage if they win their remaining four games and the Bulls lose one of their two remaining Eastern Conference games against the Pacers and Cavaliers.
Never has the need for Rose to return been more pronounced. The Bulls shot 26.8 percent after hitting 10 of their first 14 shots. With Rose not driving and either scoring, creating easy baskets for others or creating tip-in chances, the Bulls’ offense and offensive rebounding disappeared.
“The missed shots, you can deal with that,” Thibodeau said. “But they were more physical. … They had a multiple-effort mentality. They were quick to the ball. You have to play through the contact. They were more aggressive. And we paid for it.”
Thibodeau preached consistency.
“We’ll study, get ready for Dallas,” he said. “This game will reveal certain things to us, things that need to be corrected. We’re not going to get caught up in 11/2 games, 21/2 games, whatever. We’ll keep doing what we have to do to win.”