In must-win mode, Bulls go big to beat Heat

The blueprint was on display in the fourth quarter in Saturday’s loss to Miami. On Monday, it was executed much more efficiently as the Bulls used their frontcourt size to outlast the Heat 110-102.

SHARE In must-win mode, Bulls go big to beat Heat
Center Nikola Vucevic had 24 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulls’ win over Miami.

Center Nikola Vucevic had 24 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulls’ win over Miami.

AP

There would be no sugarcoating from forward Thad Young.

There seldom is.

Young was asked about the position the Bulls have put themselves in with only 11 regular-season games left and some serious work to do.

What if this team can’t capture a playoff spot or qualify for the play-in tournament and that big-stage game or series doesn’t happen this season?

“It definitely would be a big smack in the face if we made all these changes and adjustments to our team, and we can’t follow through or push through into the playoffs,’’ Young said.

There still might be a big smack coming, but it didn’t happen Monday.

Thanks to a simple game plan of exploiting their size against the smaller Heat, the Bulls (26-35) avenged their loss Saturday, outlasting Miami 110-102.

Center Nikola Vucevic had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and fellow big man Daniel Theis finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds.

“We felt the last game in the second half against Miami that we could play defense, so it was a good step for us,’’ Theis said. “If the first side wasn’t there [Monday], we swung it to the other side. We just moved the ball.

‘‘I want to be physical. It’s about defense. I don’t care about stats. I just want to win the game.’’

The Bulls are one game behind the Wizards, who lost to the Spurs, for 10th place in the East and the last play-in berth.

The Raptors won, so they’re tied with the Bulls, and they face each other one more this season.

“We’re definitely aware of where we are and what’s going on,’’ Young said. “[The Wizards are] playing really good basketball, and we’ve got to figure out ways to win basketball games. Our approach to every game has to be the same: Win at all costs because everything is on the line from this day forward.

“It’s been on the line.’’

The Bulls seemed to be in a game of chase with the Heat (32-30) all night, staying close but having trouble breaking through.

But with 4:46 left, Garrett Temple made a layup to finally put the Bulls up by two. That lead became four 40 seconds later when Vucevic scored in the paint, but Jimmy Butler, who finished with a game-high 33 points, cut the lead in half with a short jumper.

Coach Billy Donovan called a timeout with 3:09 left, and Lauri Markkanen made a three-pointer to give the Bulls their largest lead. After Trevor Ariza made a three-pointer, Theis continued to dominate inside, scoring on a tip-in.

“There were a lot of plays that [Theis] made that were real physical plays,’’ Donovan said. “Those are energy, momentum-changing plays because they kind of energize your team. You can see the guys always pointing to him, appreciating that he’s in those kinds of positions to help.

“What I said from Day 1 [about Theis] is you can always feel his presence.’’

The Heat seemed to feel it because they kept missing shots in the final minutes, while the Bulls did well enough at the free-throw line to widen the lead.

The Bulls, who shot 22 free throws, ended a streak of 12 consecutive games with fewer than 20 free throws.

The Latest
In fatal attacks this weekend, a woman was killed and a gunman was among two others wounded in a shootout Friday night in Chinatown, Chicago police said.
Leiter entered one out into the first inning and allowed one run and three hits in 5 1⁄3 innings in the Cubs’ 3-1 victory Saturday.
He’s confident the rehab start he will make with Triple-A Iowa on Sunday will be the only one he needs before returning.
The Bulls accomplished most of their major offseason goals in the last month. But while that should be a good thing, it might not be enough. The Eastern Conference is improving both ahead of and behind the Bulls.