MIAMI – It was the ideal night for Fred Hoiberg to play politician.
With Derrick Rose returning to the court after missing the last three games with a right hamstring injury, and the usual controversy following the Bulls guard, coach Fred Hoiberg – nicknamed “The Mayor’’ – was asked several different ways on Super Tuesday about the fairness of the criticism.
And several different ways he bobbed and weaved.
“Look, the biggest thing I can do is try to be there for Derrick and try and do the best job I can to get him prepared to play,’’ Hoiberg said. “And hopefully I’ll get him to play his best basketball here late in the season. Obviously it’s an important stretch for us. We’ve got [23 games] left and we’re fighting like hell for a playoff spot.’’
A fight they continued losing.
While Rose made a strong return, even his presence couldn’t cover up the season-long defensive woes, as the Bulls (30-29) fell to the Miami Heat 129-111 at the American Airlines Arena, allowing at least 100 points for a 14th consecutive game.
If the 129 points wasn’t bad enough, they also allowed Miami to shoot 52-of-77 from the field, as the Heat’s 67.5 percent for the game was a new franchise record-stain on this year’s squad.
While Hoiberg stayed clear of the Rose talk, he pulled no punches concerning his team’s inability to deal with adversity.
“That’s the thing and we’ve talked about that,’’ Hoiberg said. “We seem to play harder on defense in our practices. You gotta carry that over into games. Again, we seem to get deflated when the adversity hits us, when things go well for the other team. For whatever reason we don’t get tougher in those stretches, and that’s what you have to do when that adversity hits.’’
With the third straight loss, as well as both Indiana and Detroit idle, the Bulls slipped out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, now sitting in that ninth spot.
And the bad news didn’t stop there. With their best frontcourt defender Joakim Noah (left shoulder) already lost for the season, they lost their second-best interior defender midway through the third quarter, as Taj Gibson injured his right hamstring.
It wasn’t deemed serious, but it was yet another body down for a team seeing the playoffs slowly slip away.
“Yeah, we been talking about it for the last couple weeks, knowing that we were going to be in this position if we continued to lose,’’ Rose said of being out of the top eight now. “I’m just wondering when we’re going to say enough.’’
Considering they allowed Miami to score 74 points in the paint, it wasn’t on Tuesday.
The one positive? Only getting 24 minutes of work, Rose still scored 17 points in his return, shooting 6-for-11. He was a team-worst minus-19 in plus/minus, but the hamstring was quiet and Rose liked the way he played.
“I missed a couple bunnies, loved the way I drove the ball,’’ Rose said. “The wind has to catch up a little bit more, but I liked how I played.’’
That’s good. Now he better start liking the idea of him and his teammates guarding the opposition.
“When a team scores 129 points on you, and I think they had (74 points) in the paint,’’ Rose said. “You can’t expect to win playing like that.’’