If you go by the theory that things evolve in sports and always get better, then you don’t expect to see 1970s basketball beating 2012 basketball. That’s why there is no way the Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.
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For Chicago, Derrick Rose was out with a strained groin. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to score 71 points for Miami. And in 2012, you are not supposed to be able to remove a team’s only superstar and still beat the team defined by superstars. It upsets the accepted balance that insists ESPN highlights define a winner.
In the end, what happened wasn’t that the Bulls beat Miami 106-102, but that the Bulls’ Other Guys beat the Heat. Impossible. Incredible. The Bulls are trying to bring back the basics of the game, the notion that defense, rebounding, a deep bench and hustle plays win games.
Hustle plays. Can you imagine?
“This game was won in the trenches,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They just annihilated us on the glass. . . . This was not the type of physical performance we want. We need to get into that fistfight.”
The Bulls have the best record in the NBA, but nobody considers them the best team. Most people don’t think they have a chance, even with Rose, to beat Miami in a seven-game series. This game won’t change that.
Why? NBA teams take nights off during the regular season. The playoffs are a different animal. John Lucas III, the Bulls’ third point guard, had a freaky shooting night. And when news came at the last minute that Rose wasn’t going to play, the edge was taken off a potential statement night for both teams.
Still, this meant something. It’s hard to say what the Heat are even doing. The non-superstars were barely even there. Even Chris Bosh.
Hello? Three rebounds?
“We were trying to attack, going to the rim,” Wade said. “And they were ending up getting the ball.”
The Heat have lost four of their past seven games, and maybe they think they’ve already proven that they’re the best. That they can just turn it back on when they need to.
Maybe, but then why did James and Wade combine for 71 points? The complementary players aren’t supposed to shut down. And the way the backup Bulls punched them in the mouth all night suggests that something might be missing from the Heat.
“We’ve just got to figure it out,” James said. “We’ve got to put more bodies on guys. Just try to be a collective group, collective effort.”
The thing is, the Heat don’t see the Bulls as a measuring stick. But that’s exactly how the Bulls see the Heat. Last year, the Bulls dominated the Heat in the regular season, and then the Heat dominated the Bulls in the conference finals.
And since the Bulls didn’t add superstars, 2012 basketball suggests that they are not to be taken seriously. But the Bulls are trying to do this with patience and ideals.
They are trying to grow into a championship team. I think they’re doing it.
It’s a novel idea. Maybe an outdated one. With the trade deadline coming at 3 p.m. ET Thursday, reports are that the Bulls wanted to tear up the roster to get Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol.
We’ll know by the end of the day, but it’s hard to imagine general manager John Paxson willingly breaking up his creation for a quick shot with an additional superstar. If he can do it without losing more than one bit part, a draft choice and maybe Carlos Boozer — the most muscular man you’ll ever see who is unwilling to get his fingernails dirty — well, OK.
But it would just be so un-Bulls-like to make the trades the media outlets keep quoting unnamed sources as saying. Trade Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, C.J. Watson and/or Taj Gibson for one big superstud?
Can’t see it.
The Bulls are the better team than Miami right now, if that matters in 2012 hoops. Gibson, off the bench, demands that every rebound is his. Kyle Korver gets big 3-pointers. Watson could be a starting point guard on many teams. Noah is all elbows, while blocking shots and owning the boards.
And Lucas, the third point guard, had 24 points Wednesday.
“I played great; my teammates played great; we all had each other’s backs . . .” he said. “Everybody gets along. Our chemistry is . . . we all hang together. There’s no cliques. It’s a unit. Everybody is one.
“When you have that on a team, it’s going to be successful.”
It’s roughly the same stuff I learned in youth basketball camp a few decades ago. Jerry Sloan, then a Bulls player, said many of those things. The group believed.
It’s not that the Bulls are without stars, of course. Rose is the MVP. Deng snuck into the All-Star Game. But Rose was out Wednesday, and Deng’s troubled wrist hurt so much that he could barely shoot.
Even Boozer, the guy who won’t get dirty, seemed to realize that’s what his team needed. He scored just two points but had one of his best games of the season. Sometimes, the things that don’t hit the stat sheet can be the most important.
Sloan might have said that, too.
But now, the Bulls have something to fall back on. That’s why they keep winning, despite being a physical mess. Rose had a problem with his toe, then his back and now his groin. His style beats him down. Rip Hamilton, added in the offseason to give the Bulls another shooter, is brittle. The Bulls hope to get him back from his shoulder problem for the final 10 games, and then into the playoffs. Deng can’t get his wrist to heal.
But the other guys learned Wednesday that even they can gang up on superstars. If that’s not the modern way, it still has to have some value. It also shows the mentality of the whole team.
The Bulls are improving. The Heat were standing around.
“You’re going to lose games sometimes, going to go through some tough stretches,” Wade said. “That builds a team.”
Funny. The Bulls think that fighting, scrapping and hustling build a team. Imagine that.