With a renewed emphasis on defense and rebounding, the Chicago Bulls are looking to continue their recent upswing at home before embarking on a difficult trip.
As they welcome former teammate Luol Deng back to United Center for the first time, the Central Division-leading Bulls seek their third straight win Sunday against a Miami Heat team that is struggling offensively.
Following a stretch of six losses in eight games over 13 days, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau canceled practice Tuesday in favor of a team meeting to discuss some of the club’s issues during its worst slump of the season.
The gathering seemed to have an immediate impact on the Bulls (29-16), who rolled to a 104-81 home win over defending champion San Antonio on Thursday before pulling out a 102-98 victory at Dallas on Friday.
"I feel like we’re deep and we play hard," said guard Jimmy Butler, who tied Derrick Rose with a team-high 20 points Friday. "And if we do what we’re supposed to do, we can beat anybody."
After allowing an average of 108.8 points on 50.5 percent shooting over their previous five contests, the Bulls tightened things against the Spurs and Mavericks, who combined to shoot 41.1 percent. Chicago also outrebounded those teams 93-69 after owning a minus-7.5 margin over its previous four.
Pau Gasol has totaled 33 boards in the past two games, while Joakim Noah returned from a four-game absence due to a sprained right ankle and had seven rebounds against the Mavs.
Chicago, however, committed a season-high 24 turnovers in Dallas and will try to take better care of the ball against the Heat (19-24) before kicking off a six-game Western trip Tuesday at Golden State.
The Heat’s offense has been stagnant of late, averaging 85.5 points over the last six games, and they own a minus-3.2 rebounding margin on the season.
Miami nearly blew a 20-point lead before ending a two-game skid with an 89-87 home win over Indiana on Friday. Deng led the way with 23 points after missing one game due to a nasty illness and Chris Bosh added 19.
"The way this season has went for us, I don’t care if we won by 20 or we won by a point or half a point," said Chicago native Dwyane Wade, who had 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting while dealing with a bad headache.
Deng spent his first nine-plus seasons with the Bulls before being traded to Cleveland last season and signing with Miami as a free agent last July. Now the forward is set to play in Chicago for the first time as a visitor.
He had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Wade also scored 17 in a 93-75 home loss to Chicago on Dec. 14. The Heat struggled with Bosh sidelined in that contest, shooting just 35.0 percent and missing 18 of 22 attempts from 3-point range.
Mike Dunleavy led the Bulls with 22 points while hitting 4 of 5 from beyond the arc and Butler added 17 points and seven rebounds. Dunleavy, though, will likely be a game-time decision after missing the past 12 with an ankle injury.
Miami center Hassan Whiteside is also day to day after sitting out the past two games with a sprained ankle.
The Heat have dropped seven of eight regular-season meetings at United Center.