Still can't beat the Heat
By John Hollinger, ESPN Insider
So let me get something straight. The Bulls led the league in field-goal percentage defense this year . . . Right? We're sure that wasn't a typo? Because in the first two games of their Eastern Conference playoff series, Chicago's allegedly tough defense has surrendered one easy basket after another to Miami.
After scoring 111 points in Saturday's win, the Heat redoubled their efforts on Monday. Miami scored 95 points in the first three quarters en route to a 115-108 victory, shooting 52.4 percent from the floor while landing all five starters in double figures.
What makes the result doubly vexing for the Bulls is that this was the game they needed to have. With Udonis Haslem serving a one-game suspension, Alonzo Mourning still on the mend from a calf injury, and Shaquille O'Neal historically playing worse in games with only one day of rest as opposed to two, the Heat were ripe for the picking.
Instead, Chicago wasted a brilliant performance by Andres Nocioni (13-of-15, 30 points, no cheap shots) with a defensive "effort" that had to drive Scott Skiles crazy. The Bulls surrendered 10 points in the first three minutes, leading Skiles to call timeout for the sole purpose of giving quick hooks to Ben Gordon and Michael Sweetney.
Things didn't improve until they were trailing by 19 points at the start of the fourth quarter, with the defining sequence came at the end of the first half. After a made free throw, Chicago let Jason Williams catch an inbounds pass and go coast-to-coast for an uncontested lay-up in under four seconds. Then, Sweetney inbounded the ball directly to Dwyane Wade for a dunk at the halftime buzzer, putting the Bulls behind by double figures. For a team as effort-driven as Chicago is, that sequence was a shockingly lame effort by all five Bulls on the court.
Obviously, Chicago's challenge for Game 3 is to force some missed shots. It was clear when the series started that this was would be a huge factor in determining who won and lost, because Miami was second in the league in field-goal percentage at the offensive end while the Bulls were No. 1 defensively.
With Miami keeping the upper hand through the first two games, it's perhaps time for Skiles to shuffle the deck a bit. One possibility is to start Luol Deng in place of Malik Allen. Chicago has seemed to play well when it's had smaller lineups in the game and used Nocioni at power forward, and they've also had slow starts in Games 1 and 2 using the bigger Allen.
Plus, having another quick player on the floor could help Chicago rotate to Miami's shooters, a huge problem in the first two games. Wade and Shaq are getting their points, yes, but Miami's "others" put 72 on the board on Monday, and all but Walker made at least half their shots.
Inserting Deng may not be a panacea, but one thing is for certain. If Skiles doesn't come up with something new between now and Thursday, we can look forward to another Miami lay-up drill in Game 3. As exceptional as it was in the regular season, the Bulls' defense looks completely overmatched thus far in the playoffs.