PHOENIX — To Dwyane Wade, the regular-season finale against the Nets is judgment day.
That’s when he’ll find out if his criticism a few weeks ago resonated with his teammates.
“When I said it to you guys, I said, ‘We’ll see.’ But not now. Way too soon,” Wade said.
After a loss to the Hawks on
Jan. 25, Wade and Jimmy Butler went hard into their teammates and coaches, questioning commitment, heart and work ethic. The firestorm went national when Rajon Rondo questioned the leadership abilities of Wade and Butler on his Instagram account.
The result was a team meeting, fines, a benching and, finally, some good basketball.
“I think we’re coming together,” forward Taj Gibson said. “I think ever since that meeting there was a little turmoil, but the way D-Wade’s been talking, the way Jimmy’s been talking, the way the young guys . . . everybody has just been playing hard for each other.
“Even when we’ve lost some tough games, guys are out there playing hard, fighting, diving on the floor. I can live with that. I can live with that at night, knowing we went out and played hard.”
Though the Bulls’ record since the meeting Jan. 27 was 3-4 after a 115-97 loss Friday night against the Suns, it included a dominating performance in Oklahoma City, an overtime loss without Butler in Houston and a win in Sacramento.
In the wake of the meeting, Wade said, “We’ll see how our team either comes together or divides. Is it going to be this, or is it going to be better? Can it be better? You need to challenge guys to see, and my job is to challenge people. If it challenges us to win more ballgames, I’ll be the bad teammate from that standpoint. So that’s the way it is.”
Wade said he loves the progress the team has made.
“It’s just about keeping it up, keeping your spirits high, staying motivated, whatever the case may be,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing you need to continue. Obviously, we’ve been without Jimmy [bruised right heel] for a while, and guys are getting opportunities. And they’re doing well with their opportunities.
“But guys have to continue to keep that same mindset that we had. Continue to play hard. Continue to play together. That doesn’t mean we’ll win every one.”
What has been obvious on this road trip is that the players are having fun. Even after the Friday morning shootaround, Rondo and Nikola Mirotic were competing to see who could throw basketballs closest to different obstacles throughout the arena.
Coach Fred Hoiberg doesn’t know if the meeting was the difference or whether players finally are getting it, but he likes what he has seen.
“I guess I can only judge since we’ve had that meeting how we’ve played,” Hoiberg said. “And I’ve liked how we’ve gone out. Your offense has been much better, our pace has been much better. We’ve done a better job of playing the way we want to play since we had that meeting. Is it because of that meeting? Who knows, but the guys have done a better job of playing for each other.”
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