Last time the Miami Heat faced the Chicago Bulls, the Heat won 129-111 shooting a franchise record 67.5% from the field. There was no such repeat performance this time around with a dismal 43 FG% in the first quarter. Dwyane Wade went 1-5 and Luol Deng 0-3. This game seemed destined to become a long night for Miami. Then the fourth quarter eruption began.
Spearheaded by Josh Richardson's 16 points outscoring the entire Bulls team in the fourth quarter and the Bulls coughing up the ball six times, the Heat turned a third-quarter 84-81 lead into 118-96 thrashing at the final buzzer. This was win number 38, or one more than the 37 for all of last season.
Rook 2's eye-catching 3-point barrage took attention away from Hassan Whiteside's nightly double-double, along with his 3 blocks and 2 assists, plus Goran Dragic's 26 points and 9 assists.
Key factors in the second half about face were FG%, turnovers and rebounds. First half shoots were: Heat 22-49, Bulls 23-45; second half, Heat 24-46, Bulls 15-36. First half turnovers Heat 2, Bulls 7, second half Heat 6, Bulls 10. First half rebounds Heat 24, Bulls 24; second half Heat 19, Bulls 15. In the second half, Miami outplayed the Bulls in all parts of the game to pull away at end.
The 22-point margin of victory was the largest of their three meetings this season, although it was close until the lop-sided 34-15 fourth quarter. One important switch the Heat made was double-teaming Pau Gasol with Whiteside to cut Gasol's assist total from 6 in the first half to 3 in the second. Gasol had several crucial turnover's in the fourth quarter due the Heat's double-and-triple teaming him. Another adjustment was defending Taj Gibson by Joe Johnson instead of Deng, who was an undersized power forward guarding Gibson.
Since the All-Star break, the Heat posted an 9-3 record and out-rebounded their opponents in all 12 games by a +121 margin (607-to-486), or an average of +10.7 (51.3-to-40.6) per game. The rebounding advantage has lead to many more transition opportunities for high-percentage shoots and uncontested lobs to Whiteside in the open court.
The Heat are allowing just 97 points per game this season, which is the least amount of points in the Eastern Conference, and the second-lowest in the entire NBA. This game marked the 7th game in a row they scored 98 points or more and 13 out of the last 14 games going 98 points or over. The only exception was 89 points versus the Celtics on Feb. 27th.
As a team Miami is corralling 6.66 blocks per game, which ranks highest in team history. The 1999-00 team held the previous record at 6.39. This game's 6 blocks were par for the course and on track for a franchise record in blocks per game.
On an individual note, Joe Johnson notched 4 steals to break the 1000 barrier and gave him 1003 in his career. The Heat are 6-1 and counting with JJ on their side. Another coup for Pat Riley. Johnson could give some advice to Justise Winslow, since Joe was a #10 first-round 2001 draft pick.
Whiteside is shooting 40-of-47 (.851) from the foul line over his last nine games. So far this season he has 29 double-doubles, Bosh 15, Deng 8, the rest of the team 7. Whiteside also is only Heat player with triple-doubles this season (3).
Wade made only 3 of his 15 shoots against his hometown Bulls team, probably due to his painful leg condition. The depth and character of the current team speaks volumes how fortunate he is to be surrounded by talented players. His subpar performance and the continued absence of an All-Star like Chris Bosh, would destroy most teams. The young core of Whiteside, Winslow and Richardson provide a glimpse of the what the future might bring for the Heat.
After only a one-game sample, the future roles of Gerald Green, Josh McRoberts, Tyler Johnson and even Chris Bosh come into question. Where do they fit into the team the final few weeks? The answers will come after the matches with the Raptors, Cavaliers and Spurs, when the competition is at an elite level.
This squad has only 13 players. Should they pick up two more in April to start gaining their Bird Rights for 2017? Not only would a late playoff-eligible addition help in the post-season, there are advantages in contract negotiations down the road.