Bulls hope win in Miami cures, not masks, ongoing issues
It was an interesting week for the Bulls as reports of dysfunction started spreading like wildfire. A halftime locker-room incident was confirmed, but it was also downplayed by the “Big Three” of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Now it’s about picking up the pieces and getting back to winning.
MIAMI — One win wasn’t going to cure what ails the Bulls.
They strutted out of the FTX Arena with a 113-103 victory, but the Heat were without Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry.
There’s a difference between masking the dysfunction and curing it, and the Bulls are about to find out which direction this is going to go.
Before they halted their four-game skid, a source said there was a locker-room incident Sunday during halftime of the embarrassing loss to the Timberwolves, and the focus of the blowup was the poor defense being played, especially by Zach LaVine.
It’s not the 12-18 team’s lone issue, but it’s one that coach Billy Donovan confirmed without offering details.
The team’s “Big Three” discussed it afterward, and all three did what they’re supposed to do — downplay it.
“Something that happens all the time in our locker room,’’ LaVine said. “Multiple guys talking; multiple guys frustrated. That’s what’s supposed to happen; it’s a basketball team. Not the first time, not the last time. It’s just you guys hear it. It’s nothing new to us.’’
Maybe so, but it didn’t seem to be an issue last season, even when the Bulls were going through frustrating moments in the second half.
Obviously, the biggest change was the five-year, $215 million contract for LaVine, but the two-time All-Star wasn’t having any of that.
“There’s big responsibilities with everything,’’ LaVine said. “I hold myself to a standard, not a contract, and I’ve done that since Day 1.’’
But there was also a report that LaVine and fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan were going through an on-court disconnect. DeRozan played that off somewhat but also didn’t summarily dismiss it.
“Every great relationship is a work in progress,’’ DeRozan said. “When you appreciate it and it’s something you want to be a part of, you gotta go through the good and the bad with it. It’s not necessarily the bad is a bad thing. It just comes with it. I’ve never seen anybody in a long-term relationship be all smiles and giggles every day.’’
There were lots of smiles and giggles coming out of locker room Tuesday. The Bulls wasted little time erasing a 57-52 halftime deficit.
A LaVine driving layup, an Alex Caruso steal, then two free throws, a DeRozan lay-up, Nikola Vucevic at the rim, another Caruso steal, and it was a defensive onslaught not seen since the Bulls dismantled the Bucks before Thanksgiving.
The Bulls turned the halftime deficit into an eight-point lead five minutes into the third quarter, and they weren’t even close to done.
The Heat were forced to call a timeout with 4:14 left, down 15, thanks to a 30-7 run.
Once the smoke cleared and the quarter came to an end, the Bulls still held a comfortable 88-77 lead and never looked back.
But now they have to look forward and make sure that the bad feelings don’t linger. Vucevic doesn’t see that happening.
“If you’re sensitive and soft, yeah,’’ Vucevic said. “But if you’re really about winning, if you really care about doing the right thing, then no. If something goes on and guys get to arguing, it comes from a good place. It’s never personal, so I don’t think that’s going to be the case here. I think guys are tough enough to take it and respond. That’s just part of it.
“I’ve been around it a lot of times. It happens. You move on. That’s it.’’