1. Are Heat Elite? Still Winless Vs. East's Best
CHICAGO -- When the Miami Heat's superstar trio came together last summer, all three of them rebuffed interest and contract offers from the budding powerhouse in Chicago. They wanted to create something unique in Miami, a collective support system the league has rarely seen.
Regardless of what you thought about their methods or the way they handled their introduction, they ultimately felt their plan was altruistic to the spirit of the game. They were taking less money and, in theory, shedding some individual attention for the chance to create a team they felt would be incredible. It was to be a new-age jumbo jet, super-efficient with triple redundancy.
It is fair to talk about processes and chemistry and time, but it's becoming clear that what the final product might still not be enough.
The Chicago Bulls, who have moved on from getting the cold shoulder from their top three free agent choices, thank you very much, beat the Heat 93-89 on Thursday night. It was an intense playoff-like game that featured a mini Most Valuable Player showdown between Derrick Rose and LeBron James.
It contained a fascinating moment when Dwyane Wade gambled and lost on defense as Luol Deng hit a game-winning 3-pointer in the final minute. James badly missed a rushed 3-point response -- for which he was roundly ripped as "LeBrick" became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter within minutes -- but that moment will hardly define his week much less his season.
The Bulls get only one win and the Heat don't suffer much shame in such a contest. The outcome was hardly season-making or back-breaking. But there was an elephant in the silent Heat locker room, and it wasn't even Chris Bosh's egregious 1-of-18 shooting performance. He's an easy target with that stat line, which doesn't account for some horrid defensive possessions as well, but that's just one performance.
The bottom line was deeper than one night. This Heat team was created not to blame problems on growing pains after nearly 60 games. James, Wade and Bosh joined up because they were tired of processes and waiting and growing pains. They could have played the long game by re-signing with their old teams -- James and Bosh at least. By their own design, the greatness clock is ticking, and right now the Heat aren't a great team.
Here is this Heat season to this juncture: When Miami's big three play well they almost always win. When even one of them is off -- which frequently happens in big games -- or injured, they usually find themselves in trouble.
This narrow margin of error is a glaring issue. Wade (34) and James (29) combined for 63 points and 18 rebounds on 53 percent shooting in this one. These are two of the greatest players in a generation playing excellently ... and still losing. Over and over in money games.
There are solid reasons. The bench is mostly old, unsteady and, right now, injured as Mike Miller missed his third consecutive game with a series of head injuries and some sort of severe ear infection. The Bulls used their salary-cap space to create depth. On Thursday, their bench outscored the Heat's reserves 22-2 and outrebounded them 20-1.
Heat forward Joel Anthony logged 18 minutes and collected just one rebound, while Bulls reserve Omer Asik played 20 minutes and got 11. This was just as big of a factor on the game as Bosh's bizarre behavior. Such as: despite missing nine of his first 10 jumpers, Bosh refused to drive to the hoop even when when Joakim Noah was replaced as Bosh's defender by the much less mobile Carlos Boozer.
The rotation at point guard and center has been unsteady all season. But Thursday the Heat's starters outplayed the Bulls', despite Bosh's stinker.
The standings say the Heat are 42-16, still in great position to get the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The statistics show they are one of the best defensive teams in the league. But when they are pressed, the eye test says they aren't a dominant team.
They're 0-5 against the Bulls and Boston Celtics, the two teams they'll probably have to beat if they hope to win the conference. In each loss, one of the big three has been absent. Wade has been awful in three games against the Celtics. James missed a game against the Bulls and Bosh might've had the worst game of his career on Thursday. And the Heat survived none of them.
It's just not the script of how this was supposed to go.
"We've got to get more production, we've got to a whole team," Wade said. "All three of us aren't going to play great every night. Looking at the bench, we can't get outscored by 20 points. We'll get it right."
You would think they would. But they aren't. The Heat are winning more than they were at the beginning of the season. James and Wade and putting up star numbers. Bosh has mostly been a steady third option. Yet they continue to be vulnerable against top competition when they were supposed to be impenetrable.
Rose and Deng broke them this time. Deng had 18 of his 20 points in the second half and made two big jumpers in the last two minutes. Rose was just 9-of-24 from the floor and had just five assists, way off his usual standards. But he made all the big plays despite giving up the star power to the opponent.
"There was no way you can recoup [Bosh] tonight, he didn't have it going," James reasoned. "It is hard for a 50 percent shooter going 1-for-18, you can't get that back."
If there are two other Hall of Famers on the floor, actually you are supposed to. Spin it how they want, that was the plan. Right now that plan isn't coming together.
2. Rose Shows The Goods Again
If there were a first-round KO in basketball the Miami Heat would have scored it.
Five dunks in the first eight baskets. Mean dunks, dunks with intent. Players can say all they want that regular-season games don't much matter, but this one did. You could read it all over LeBron James' face and hear it in his voice in the time leading up to tipoff. This was a game Miami wanted to take -- and tried to take -- but couldn't, even with James and Dwyane Wade playing in all their splendor.
At some point in Thursday's 93-89 win, the Chicago Bulls decided they were tired of being dunked on and run past, that it was plain foolish to play that way against two of the greatest athletes in any sport. The Bulls decided they would be smart to take their chances with in-your-shorts defense, half-court execution and a player who now is close to being the equal of LeBron and Wade, the willful Derrick Rose.
You watch Rose enough, every game and most every practice as Bulls bosses John Paxson and Gar Forman do, and perhaps you become convinced you don't need to make any flashy trades at the deadline. His numbers Thursday -- 9-for-24, five rebounds and six assists -- as usual don't adequately convey the kid's impact, his greatness. A few fools out there like to point out what Rose doesn't do, such as play lockdown defense like Rajon Rondo or pass the ball like Steve Nash. All Rose does, all he did against Miami, which came into the game with the No. 1 defense in the NBA, was get away from LeBron, get away from D-Wade and beat Miami's double-teams and switches and traps. All he did on the most important play of the game was get his shoulder inside LeBron on a left-handed dribble, sucker D-Wade to him as though he was going to go all the way to the rim, and kick a pass to Luol Deng for the wide-open 3-pointer with 16 seconds left that won the game.
You can make this complicated if you want. You can come up with stat-based arguments and cases built on how good Miami is now and how Cleveland has dropped off the table with him. You can waste time with that foolishness or you can simply look at what each of these two teams does against the best teams in the league. Against top-five teams, LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh (three All-Stars) have a record of 1-7. Against the top-five teams, D-Rose (playing with no other All-Stars and missing either Joakim Noah or Carlos Boozer all but 11 games this season) and the Bulls are 7-4.
The Bulls, for those of us disappointed they didn't make a trade for a shooter -- and yes, you can count me among them, though I'll bring you Forman's very, very smart case for standing pat in a bit -- keep plugging along. Maybe it doesn't matter all that much who plays shooting guard, whether the Bulls can stretch the floor or that they decided to pass on making a deadline deal. Maybe all Rose needs, even against the best teams in the league, are contributions here and there, a two-way performance from Deng, a shot here and there from Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, control of the glass from Noah and Boozer.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their trade deadline and in-game opinions on all topics throughout Thursday's marathon slate of NBA roundball talk in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Luol Deng, Bulls: Deng made the 3-pointer that sunk the Heat en route to a 20-10 night. Deng's 3 game has expanded this season. He's taking more than three times as many this season (4.2 now) than last, and sinking them at a 34.3 percent rate.
Chris Bosh, Heat: Going 1-for-18 from the field was no fun. In his second game back, Bulls big man Joakim Noah helped harass Bosh into the terrible night, sending the Heat to a four-point loss.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
-- Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, with an intriguingly bitter ALL CAPS Tweet. Perhaps directed at George Karl, who suggested on a TNT interview Thursday that Melo's D was not all that it could be.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about a team that was 17-40."
-- Nets guard Deron Williams, expressing some understandable trepidation about joining Newark's finest.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Ex-Knicks Debut
7. Grading C's-Thunder Deal
The Thunder finally took some chips off their huge stack and threw them into the center of the table, dealing two starters to upgrade their interior defense and promote Serge Ibaka. I wrote about the transformation more extensively earlier, but the risk is that Perkins may fly the coop as a free agent. Even then Oklahoma City will be partially covered because it will have cap space, but if so it loses a valuable draft pick belonging to the Clippers for just half a season of Perkins. Robinson is more a minus than a plus in this deal, as he'll cost more than $4 million next year and is unlikely to see more than spot duty as a fifth guard.Boston Celtics: B
Everyone in Beantown is puzzled by this deal, but the Celtics desperately needed a wing and had a surplus of centers. Obviously, dealing Perkins was a risk, and getting the Clippers' draft pick is of questionable value for a team trying to win a title right now. I wrote more about the move here, but suffice it to say I can understand the logic as long as the Celtics think it's the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, not the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, who present the greatest threats to their title hopes this season.
8. Son Of A Kidd
Now, the Nets are banking on Deron Williams to have a similar impact -- if they can keep him.
The Nets made one of their biggest trades in franchise history on Wednesday morning, sending Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first-round draft picks to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Williams, a two-time All-Star who is averaging career highs of 21.3 points and 9.7 assists per game this season.
"I think that move is right up there with Jason Kidd, because he was able to turn this franchise around," said Nets general manager Billy King, who called the move the biggest he's ever made in his career as an NBA executive, on Thursday.
It's also his shrewdest.
King has made some blockbuster transactions before. When he was the GM of the Philadelphia 76ers, he orchestrated deals that brought in Dikembe Mutombo and Chris Webber. He also shipped fan favorite Allen Iverson out of town.
But none of those moves topped this one.
"It's definitely the biggest trade I've ever made," King said. "Because those Sixers teams were good. And our best player was a piece we already had: Allen. But Deron Williams is the piece.
"The piece we needed to continue to build."