November messages are overrated, especially in the NBA, where the money doesn’t start getting pushed to the middle of the table for another four months.
But measuring sticks to self-check where a team is a quarter of the way through the season have some merit.
Even Bulls coach Billy Donovan wasn’t going to underplay that idea.
“It’s a great measuring stick for us against a team that has been incredibly successful for a long period of time,’’ Donovan said.
So how did they measure up against the Heat?
Thanks to Miami throwing down a zone in the final 10 minutes, as well as some clutch three-point shooting from Kyle Lowry, the Heat outlasted the Bulls 107-104 at the United Center on Saturday night.
“It was a grind-out kind of game,’’ Donovan said. “Games like this you find out about yourself and where you need to get better. I really liked the way our guys competed; I liked the way we fought. I liked the fact that when things aren’t going well, you see a team in the huddle trying to get things turned around rather than pouting. I liked a lot of the things we did competitively.
“We’re finding out more and more what we need to do. These kinds of games will only help us get better.’’
The Bulls (13-8) had an opportunity to steal the game late, trailing by three with 25.9 seconds left.
But out of the timeout, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a perfect play for Lowry that allowed the All-Star to get behind the defense for an uncontested easy layup and a lead that was insurmountable.
Lowry had 11 in that final quarter, including going 3-for-5 from three-point range.
The Monday shootaround might involve a lot of zone-breaking.
“We didn’t attack it well enough,’’ Donovan said of the Heat’s zone defense down the stretch. “We were taking jump shots, and I’m not saying jump shots are bad, but we never probed the paint. We never probed the middle of the zone at all.’’
The Bulls having a season-high 23 turnovers in the loss didn’t help, either, especially against a Miami team that gets the opposition to fall into that style on most nights.
What was nice was the game did live up to the late-November hype.
It was expected to be a good old-fashioned prize fight, and it played out to be just that in the first half.
Miami came out in the first quarter and imposed its defensive will, building its lead to nine and holding the Bulls to just 20 points. The Bulls withstood the body blows and had an answer of their own in the second quarter, holding the Heat to 22.
If the first half was about feeling each other out, the third quarter became an exchange of flurries. The lead changed seven times, as the Bulls held Miami to just 29.2% from the field and came out of a quarter that’s been a trouble spot leading 74-72.
Thank DeMar DeRozan.
The veteran was the lone Bulls starter who seemed to understand the magnitude of the key matchup, as he was again an assassin from midrange, going 6-for-7 from the field and scoring 14 in the quarter. They needed all of it as Zach LaVine stumbled through the third, going 1-for-5 from the field.
LaVine ended up with 16 on 6-for-16 shooting, while DeRozan led the Bulls with 28.
One player that Donovan needs to see more from is Nikola Vucevic, who struggled with seven points.
“Shows you how grimy and gritty you’ve got to be when you go out and play [the Heat],’’ DeRozan said. “Lesson learned for us.’’