Chicago Bulls: Miami Heat

LeBron's decision can't alter Bulls' focus

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
12:36
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, and the Chicago Bulls would be wise to get in front of him again and make their best recruiting pitch just like they did four summers ago.

But that does not mean they should lose focus on what should remain their ultimate prize this summer: Carmelo Anthony.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Carmelo Anthony
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Bulls have to pursue LeBron James, but they can't lose focus on landing Carmelo Anthony.
James, who will opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Miami Heat and become a free agent, is undoubtedly the better all-around player. He is a four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion coming off his fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals. But it's Anthony who figures to be more attainable for the Bulls, and the interest appears mutual.

As fans consider the possibility -- however small it may be -- of James pairing up with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, remember that James passed on the chance to do the same thing in the summer of 2010. And that was before Rose had two serious knee injuries that caused him to miss the vast majority of the past two seasons.

The Bulls are in a better place than they were that summer four years ago thanks to the rise of Tom Thibodeau as one of the best coaches in the league, the development of Taj Gibson and the elevation of Noah to an All-NBA center and the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year.

But if James wasn't going to tie his professional future to Rose back when Rose didn't have any knee problems, why would he change his mind now? It's a question that hovers over every recruiting pitch the Bulls will make this summer to James and other players throughout the NBA.

The interesting dynamic of the Bulls' courtship history of James is that while he has always been respectful of the way Chicago has played under Thibodeau, he never responded to Noah's overtures about coming to play in the Windy City.

"I did not talk to LeBron," Noah told ESPNChicago.com in August 2010. "I reached out to LeBron. I think of course he's a great player, and I wanted to win, and he would have definitely helped. That being said, he did not reach back out to me. He did not want to talk to me, which is fine. I really don't give a [crap] at all. I really don't care. I think we have a really good team and we're going to be ready to compete against the Miami Heat."

The Bulls have had some intense games with the Heat over the past four years and have been bounced out of the playoffs by Miami in two of those seasons. They should do everything they can to speak to James and talk to him about playing for Thibodeau, a coach he respects.

But the front office can't lose focus on Anthony. He is the player the organization has targeted for months, and he is the player who likely gives the Bulls the best chance to topple James, wherever he may land. While it's no sure thing that Anthony lands in Chicago -- he might even team with James somewhere else -- he is a much safer bet than James when it comes to playing for the Bulls at this point.

James had the chance to play for the Bulls and turned it down. What makes this time any different?

Will Heat foil Bulls' big plans again?

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
9:45
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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HeatBill Baptist/NBAE via Getty ImagesWill Carmelo Anthony join Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to make a Big Four in Miami?
CHICAGO -- Once again, it appears that the Miami Heat might beat the Chicago Bulls to the punch.

Four summers ago, Heat team president Pat Riley outsmarted everyone in the league by finding a way to get LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami to play alongside Dwyane Wade. Now, it's Carmelo Anthony the Heat have focused their recruiting sales pitch on heading into the summer, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein.

[+] EnlargeKevin Love
AP Photo/Jim MoneAcquiring Kevin Love might be even more important for the Bulls if Carmelo Anthony lands in Miami.
That news will be reverberating around Berto Center all day Thursday, given the Bulls were holding out hope that they could bring Anthony to Chicago during the next month. Now that Miami has entered the picture, the Bulls might be left in a familiar position: forever the bridesmaid of NBA superstar free agency.

Players like Chicago, appreciate the core of tough-minded players Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson have put together, and they respect coach Tom Thibodeau. But in the end, they always find another place to land.

In this case, it appears more likely than ever that Anthony will either take a max contract to stay with his current team, the New York Knicks, or take less money to join up with his good friend James in Miami.

Why would he take less money to play for the Bulls if he could take less and play for the Heat, who have gone to four straight NBA Finals? Why would he come to Chicago and hitch the rest of his professional prime to Derrick Rose when he could play with the best player on the planet in James? Anthony could always decide to stay in New York, given the Knicks can offer him more money than any other team.

The whole scenario must feel a little like Groundhog Day to Forman and Paxson. They've been through this cycle. A superstar player talks openly about how much they respect the Bulls, only to sign elsewhere. As my colleague Tom Waddle likes to say: "You can't force a player to take a team's money." The Bulls have learned this lesson the hard way.

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It's not for a lack of effort in trying to recruit the best players in the game; it's a lack of execution. The Bulls, like the rest of the NBA, can't compete with Miami's star power. And the Bulls can't compete with James. He has established himself as the world's best player and elevated his game to new levels. Even if Anthony doesn't land in Miami, James still poses the biggest roadblock for the Bulls' championship aspirations.

No matter what happens in the coming weeks, it seems the chances are smaller than ever that Anthony comes to Chicago next season.

So what do the Bulls do next?

If Anthony is truly out of the picture, they must focus all of their efforts on landing Minnesota Timberwolves big man Kevin Love. While Love's presence wouldn't put the Bulls past the Heat on paper, it would give them the next best chance to contend for a title. As long as the Bulls don't have to give up Joakim Noah, every other player should be available to Minnesota for the taking.

But the issue for the Bulls in landing Love remains similar to that of Anthony. Nobody knows exactly what is on his mind. Only Love knows if he would be willing to sign an extension in Chicago -- a fact that is crucial in any potential deal. The Bulls, like many teams, won't give up many of their assets only to see Love walk in a year.

If Love doesn't land in Chicago, the Bulls are in even bigger trouble. Forman would likely push harder to land European star Nikola Mirotic, but Mirotic isn't the type of superstar talent who would push the balance of power like Anthony or Love would. The Bulls would try to sell fans on the fact that Rose is coming back and they can add two draft picks to a solid group of players, but fans will see straight through that.

The NBA has always been a players' league, a place where superstar talent wins out more often that not. The reality for the Bulls is that they still don't have enough of it to compete for a championship. Yet again, it appears that Miami might beat them in the high-stakes game of free agency, whether Anthony ends up playing with the Heat or not.

Thibs: LeBron is like nobody else

March, 8, 2014
Mar 8
9:33
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Tom Thibodeau has been around professional basketball for well more than two decades. He has a passion for the game and the intricacies that separate the good players from the great ones. He studies compulsively to try to make sure his Chicago Bulls team always has an advantage when it steps onto the floor. That's why his praise of Miami Heat superstar LeBron James is so telling. When asked Saturday to compare James to another player he's watched or coached against in years past, Thibodeau didn't hesitate.

"Nobody," Thibodeau said.

"Because you're combining the speed, the power, the skills, the passing, the vision. I can't recall anyone that I've coached against that's like that. There's nothing that he doesn't do. He's great with the ball, great without the ball, can post, can drive, can shoot, can really pass. If you overcommit to him he's going to make you really pay. And he keeps getting better every year. So he's an all-time great."

Thibodeau always talks about how the Bulls must play team defense against a player like James. But the reality, as the veteran coach knows, is that it's much, much easier said than done as his team once against gets set to host James and the Heat on Sunday afternoon. James is the best player in the world, and he can take over the game virtually whenever he wants.

[+] EnlargeJames/Noah
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah was an All-Star teammate of LeBron James, but has been known to get fired up about how his Bulls play James' Heat -- as they will Sunday.
"The guy's 6-foot-9 and he's 280 pounds," Bulls center Joakim Noah said before a game against Miami in 2011. "And he can play the point guard. He's different. He's built different. He's pretty good, too."

The Bulls saw that again firsthand a couple weeks ago when they got throttled by the Heat in the second half of a game they would go on to lose. The performance infuriated Noah so much that he called out his entire team and the way the Bulls played. No matter how many times Thibodeau might try to downplay a matchup against the Heat, Noah and his teammates understand that these games always mean a little more.

"When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be through the roof for 48 [minutes]," Noah said after the loss Feb. 23. "Regardless [if] shots are going in or not. Of course you want to win the game, but the way we're going to win is our edge -- our intensity has to be better than theirs throughout the game."

The fact that Miami has knocked out the Bulls in two of the past three postseasons is not lost on Thibodeau or his players. He liked the fire with which Noah spoke after that game, but he has always believed that actions speak much louder than words.

"You got to be ready to have the fight necessary to succeed," he said. "I think that we were disappointed that we didn't play 48 minutes against them. And we know that that's necessary in order to win. So hopefully we can bring better effort."

Effort isn't the only thing the Bulls will need Sunday. They need better execution as well. They've won 10 of their past 13 contests, but if they don't find ways to score and make the effort plays that have defined them under Thibodeau, James will find ways to break them down as he has done in the past. Thibodeau acknowledged that a case could be made that the Heat are a dynasty, having played in three consecutive NBA Finals and won two titles in a row.

The key for his team is to find the intensity that was missing in Miami. In order to do that, the Bulls must find a way to slow down James and stay in front of him. It's an assignment that Thibodeau hopes his team is ready for against the best player -- and the best team -- in the game.

"That's the challenge," he said. "In this league you're going to be challenged every day that you're in it. It doesn't matter who you are, if you're a player, coach, executive, first-year player, 15-year player -- it doesn't matter. You're going to be challenged and that's what brings out the best in people. So we're looking forward to it. We know they're tough on both ends of the floor and we got to be ready."

Wade: Thibs, Bulls always find a way

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
1:41
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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MIAMI -- Heat guard Dwyane Wade isn't surprised that the Chicago Bulls continue to have success despite the fact that they have lost Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee surgery and Luol Deng in a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

[+] EnlargeDwyane Wade
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyDwyane Wade and the Heat snapped the Bulls' five-game win streak on Sunday.
"That's Chicago, man," Wade told reporters after his Heat beat the Bulls 93-79 on Sunday. "No matter what goes on, you got to give [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau] a lot of credit. You've got to give those guys in that uniform a lot of credit. For no matter what happens, whenever it looks like things are going astray, they find a way to bring it back. Every night you play them, you have to respect them -- no matter who's on the court.

"We've found that out, and we've lost games where it looked like we shouldn't have lost to them. In the 27-game winning streak, I don't think no one thought we were going to lose that one, but we did. They're a very tough team. They play the game 100 percent all out. Those are gratifying wins [against the Bulls], no matter who's on the court, with the way that they play, when you can beat them."

The Heat snapped the Bulls' five-game winning streak, but Chicago remains in control of the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 29-26 record.

The Bulls and Heat have shown a disdain for each other over the years because of the physical style of play that comes with each game. But it's clear that both sides enjoy the challenge of playing against each other and the level of competition that it brings out each time.

Bulls center Joakim Noah was upset by his team's effort against its biggest rival.

"I don't care about missed shots," Noah said after the loss. "When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be high the whole time. To me, that's what's disappointing. We play the Heat -- those guys ended our seasons a lot. You've got to hate playing these guys, and our intensity has to be, every time we play them, our intensity has to be high. We did it in spurts. It wasn't good the whole time, and that's what's disappointing."

Are the Bulls the most frustrating team in the league to the Heat?

"I don't know," Wade said. "They make you think a lot. They're going to make you think. They play hard, so I don't know if it's the most frustrating or not. Obviously, in the Eastern Conference we play them four times a year, so we've got opportunities to see them more than some other teams, but they're a tough team no matter whether we play them in Miami, we play them in Chicago, we play them in Alaska. Anywhere we play them they're going to be a tough team."

Having knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs twice in the past three seasons, Wade knows that whoever faces the Bulls in the playoffs is going to have a challenge on their hands.

"They're going to fight," he said. "They're going to battle. We've played them multiple years in the playoffs. Whether it's five games, seven games, they're going to take a lot out of you, but that's the nature of the game. So whoever has to play them, you've got to have your hard hats on. They're not going to make it easy on you at all. No matter who's in the lineup for them, they're going to go out and give it their all.

"A lot of nights, their all is good enough to win games and to compete and get a chance to win. So it's always going to be a tough series for whoever faces them."

Noah: Bulls' intensity wasn't high enough

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
6:57
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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MIAMI -- After all the years and all the battles the Chicago Bulls have had against the Miami Heat, Joakim Noah -- the emotional heart and soul of the Bulls -- can't believe his team folded the way it did in the second half of Sunday afternoon's lackluster loss. His frustration was palpable as he sat in the quiet visitor's locker room. His team was outscored 25-12 in the third quarter after being tied at the half, but what disappointed him most was that he felt as if some of his teammates weren't playing as hard as they could have been.

"I don't care about missed shots," Noah said. "When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be high the whole time. To me, that's what's disappointing. We play the Heat -- those guys ended our seasons a lot. You got to hate playing these guys, and our intensity has to be, every time we play them, our intensity has to be high. We did it in spurts. It wasn't good the whole time, and that's what's disappointing."

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesNoah's 20-point, 15-rebound result rose above the effort put forth by his teammates.
The Bulls came into Sunday's affair with a five-game winning streak and knowing that LeBron James wasn't going to play as he recovers from a broken nose, but they walked out of American Airlines Arena with the same miserable feeling that has accompanied many of their trips out of Miami over the past few seasons. The kind of feeling that comes when a team knows it has been dominated over various stretches in the game.

Although most don't like to say it publicly, Noah and his teammates always use a matchup against the Heat as a litmus test in regards to how they're doing in a particular season. They respect the way the Heat win, but they can't stand the group led by James, particularly Noah. The Heat have proven to be the Bulls' kryptonite season after season -- and Noah is sick of dealing with the same problem. That's why he was stewing in front of his locker as his teammates walked in and out of the shower. He's not sure why they weren't ready to play against Miami, but he doesn't believe in any kind of excuse.

"I'm frustrated about the game right now," Noah said. "I feel like we could have definitely played a lot better. When we play [the] Miami Heat, our intensity has to be through the roof for 48 [minutes], regardless [if] shots are going in or not. Of course you want to win the game, but the way we're going to win is our edge. Our intensity has to be better than theirs throughout the game."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 107, Heat 87

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
11:25
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned an impressive 107-87 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday night at the United Center.

How it happened: Carlos Boozer finished with 27 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bulls. Taj Gibson had another big game off the bench, going off for 19 points and six rebounds. LeBron James led the Heat with 21 points and five rebounds but the Bulls stuck it to Miami early and never let up.

What it means: When fans hear teams, especially the Bulls, say that every game is just one in an 82-game season, they shouldn't believe them. This was the most energy the Bulls have played with since Derrick Rose went down. It wasn't hard for Joakim Noah and his teammates to get up for a game against their hated rival. The key for Tom Thibodeau will be to try and find a way to get his team to continue playing this way. They have not been consistent since Rose went down, but maybe this game will help them get out of their funk.

Hits: Noah played his best game in several weeks. He was active on both ends of the floor, scoring 17 points and pulling down 15 rebounds.

Misses: The Heat got outworked most of the night -- second-chance points: 24-6 Bulls.

Stat of the night: The Bulls outrebounded the Heat 49-27.

What's next: The Bulls face the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night.

Opening Tip: One loss, or bad omen?

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
11:36
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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MIAMI -- In the grand scheme of an 82-game season, one game isn't supposed to mean much more than another. That's what coach Tom Thibodeau and his team would like fans to believe, anyway. After getting handled by the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, the message permeating the locker room was the same: This was just one game in a long season.

"For sure, man," Rose said. "It's not the end of the world. This will be easily forgotten. Of course we'll look at film (Wednesday), and (Thursday) we play against another great team."

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The Bulls will play against plenty of teams throughout the season -- but there's only one Miami. That's why all the talk about this being just one game sounded hollow late Tuesday night. The Bulls wanted to beat Miami badly and set the tone for the season. Instead, the Heat sent their own message to the Bulls -- a loud and clear one that said: You're still not on our level yet.

"You can just tell by their offensive execution," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "It's very fluid. Defensively, they have a system that's in place. Everybody knows what they're doing."

Then Noah turned almost defiant. He was emphatic that this game would not define his team. He knows that he and Rose still have some rust to shake off, but he is also convinced that the Bulls won't play that poorly against the Heat again.

"I think the potential for us is crazy," Noah continued. "It's tough to lose to this team. We obviously want to beat them. We wanted to ruin their party tonight but it didn't work out that way. Next time we play them, we will play a lot better. We will be a lot better."

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Opening Tip: It's getting 'real' for Rose

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
11:16
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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MIAMI -- This is the day that every Chicago Bulls fan has been waiting for since Derrick Rose tore his ACL on April 28, 2012. This is the moment that Rose has been training for over the last year and a half.

When the Bulls face the Miami Heat on Tuesday night it will mark the culmination of an arduous journey for all involved: Rose, his teammates, the Bulls organization, and the fans that support the team.

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After all the sadness, hype, criticism, and excitement that has hovered around Rose and the Bulls for the past 18 months, Rose finally gets to play in a game that counts.

"It's a real game," Rose said before Tuesday's shootaround. "For us we're playing in our first game here. It's unreal, and I hope everybody enjoys it."

Amidst all the questions surrounding his return, Rose has always remained the calmest guy in the room. He made his decision last season not play and stuck to it -- no matter how many times people questioned him. Don't think he didn't hear all the criticism he received last season, though. It's what fueled him throughout the summer to train harder than ever and improve his game. There's little doubt among his teammates and coaches that he is a better player than ever before.

"I think you've seen that each year he's been in the league," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It's the way he approaches things. He puts a lot into each and every day. He studies. I think his experience has taught him a lot. Even though he couldn't play last year he studied. So he is a better player, and I think you'll see him continue to improve each and every year because of the way he approaches things."

Given how well Rose has shot from long range this preseason, there's no reason to think he won't be able to shoot better this season. He is more comfortable from the outside than he's ever been. He wants to prove a point -- that he is still one of the best players in the NBA. His drive to win back some of the goodwill he lost last season and to win a championship begins Tuesday night.

What's next: The Bulls open up the regular season against the Miami Heat at 7 p.m. CT Tuesday.

Keep an eye on: Aside from Rose, it will be interesting to see how Joakim Noah (groin) and Kirk Hinrich (concussion/shoulder) perform after missing large chunks of the preseason.

They said it: Carlos Boozer on the difference between last year's team and this year's team: "We're healthy."

Bulls will pass on watching Heat get rings

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
2:41
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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HeatChris Trotman/Getty ImagesThe Miami Heat will show off their new rings before taking on the Bulls on Tuesday night.
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The Chicago Bulls will take a pass on watching the Miami Heat's championship ring ceremony before their regular-season opener Tuesday.

"That's their moment," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after Monday's practice. "We'll be in the locker room."

Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who will be playing in his first regular-season game in over a year and a half, does not think it will be tough to stay focused.

(Read full post)

3 Points: What to expect from Rose

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
2:30
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Derrick RoseShane Bevel/Getty ImagesRust was hard to find on Derrick Rose's game during the preseason.
Derrick Rose is back and so are the lofty expectations for a Chicago Bulls team that begins its season against the biggest obstacle in the way of a trip to the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat.

On the eve of the season opener, our panel weighs in on three key questions facing the Bulls.

1. What are your expectations for Derrick Rose this season?


Nick Friedell: I expect him to play at an MVP level all season long. Rose was upset by all the criticism he received for his decision not to play last season, and he's more motivated than ever to remind people just how good he is. He still has some rust, but there isn't much left. The key for the Bulls will be for Tom Thibodeau to make sure Rose is healthy and ready to roll once the playoffs start.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bulls say there will be no limitations on Derrick Rose this season.

Scoop Jackson: Same as they were when he stepped on the court after he won the MVP, after being beat by the Heat in the 2011 playoffs. Derrick loves (I'll write that again -- loves! ) to prove wrong those who have doubts when it comes to his ability to ball. It gets obsessive with him. This season will probably be one of those seasons. I expect him to make everyone at ESPN who ranked him at No. 9 on their poll of best players in the league apologize.

Doug Padilla: There is no reason to think Rose won't be exactly what he was in the past, despite now carrying ACL surgery on his resume. That doesn't necessarily mean an MVP season is on the horizon, but Rose should have no issues being the catalyst on a playoff-bound team. Perhaps the only things that would slow his charge are reduced minutes, especially in games that appear well-decided after three quarters, and some nights off on the tail end of back-to-back games. But this is coach Tom Thibodeau we're talking about, so the concept of reduced playing time for any starter is always met with a raised eyebrow.


2. Are Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer playing their final seasons with the Bulls?


Nick Friedell: The safe money has always been on the Bulls amnestying Boozer at the end of the season. While that still seems likely, there's always a chance the Bulls could keep him if they don't feel as though there is a significant upgrade on the free-agent market. Deng is a different story. He didn't get an extension over the summer, and he doesn't appear to want to take a "hometown discount." Unless he does, he won't be back in Chicago. I don't think either player will be back next season, but again, it all depends on who is out there and how much money the Bulls have once the free-agency market opens.

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng, Chris Bosh
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWith contract talks shelved, Luol Deng's camp says the forward will test free agency next summer.

Scoop Jackson: Yes, to both, but for vastly different reasons. Booz because over the course of his career here, he hasn't delivered the way most in the front office and throughout the city expected. And Taj Gibson is probably going to have the type of season that totally reduces Boozer's value. Deng won't be back simply because the Bulls organization (not team) and the media don't appreciate him. Two justified All-Star Game appearances and still non-stop talk/rumors about trading or getting rid of him. If I'm Lu, it's deuces the second that final buzzer of the season sounds.

Doug Padilla: The safest bet is that Deng is playing for a new Bulls contract, while Boozer is on his way out following the season. Despite his size and strength, Boozer doesn't seem to be a self-starter when it comes to the banging and bruising defense Thibodeau likes to play. There are times when Boozer asserts himself, but it doesn't seem to be a first instinct. With Rose back in the fold and Jimmy Butler showing he can be an offensive threat, expect the Bulls to use the Boozer money to find a space-eating defensive stalwart, and maybe even a long-distance shooting threat for the bench as well.


3. Who is a bigger threat to the Heat, the Bulls or Pacers?


Nick Friedell: The Bulls. The Pacers are a solid, deep team, but they do not have a Derrick Rose. I think people have forgotten how good the 25-year-old is -- and can still become. Paul George is getting better, Roy Hibbert is a nice player and Danny Granger may still have some juice in the tank (after he comes back from his calf injury), but none of those guys are Rose, and that's why I think the Bulls pose the biggest challenge to LeBron and the Heat.

[+] EnlargeRoy Hibbert
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Pacers' depth and the development of Paul George make them a force in the East.

Scoop Jackson: With a worse record in the preseason than Cleveland and Detroit, the defenders of the Central Division crown are making last season look like it was a fluke. This time last year, with similar great expectations placed on them, it was the Lakers that were imploding, going without a win in the preseason. People figured that it didn't matter, that once the preseason was over the Lakers would get their act together. We all saw how that turned out. Now the Pacers look as if they could be the 2013-14 version, the Lakers East. Therefore, my answer, for the regular season, is: them Bulls.

Doug Padilla: Since their goals are more trained on NBA championships than winning a division title, the Bulls will remain as the biggest threat. That premise will certainly ring true on opening night Tuesday when the Heat will raise a banner to the rafters before they take on the Bulls. That certainly doesn't mean Indiana will be overlooked, and the evidence of that will come during some intense regular-season matchups with the Pacers this season. Heck, even before the preseason opener against the Pacers, many Bulls players were chatting up the rivalry with their border-state foe.

Opening Tip: No downplaying Heat test

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
10:24
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah is the guy on the Chicago Bulls who is most likely to say something off the script. Most of the players usually stick to the mantras that Tom Thibodeau throws at them, but Noah has moments where he says something the coach may not want him to divulge.

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Noah, who isn't nearly as outspoken under Thibodeau's watch as he was when Vinny Del Negro was in charge, had one of those moments Sunday afternoon. When asked if opening up the regular season against the Miami Heat Tuesday means a little more, Noah couldn't hold back.

"Of course," he said. "Duh."

Throughout the past three years, Thibodeau has done his best to downplay any showdown with the Heat, but that shouldn't fool anyone at this point. The Bulls want to beat the Heat every time they play them. They don't like them. They respect LeBron James and Co. but they do not like them and how they carry themselves. They know that in order to win the East they'll likely have to go through Miami and every game against the Heat offers them a chance to measure themselves against the best.

"Every time you play against Miami it's a statement [game]," Noah said. "It's the beginning of our season, we're a hungry group. We've been waiting for this game for a long time. It's one of 82 but we know every time we play against Miami it's important."

That's the attitude that permeates through the locker room. That's why Derrick Rose said recently that the Bulls' only true rival is Miami. Ever since James and Dwyane Wade paired up, they have been the team to beat. They know in order to take the next step this season they must find a way to knock off Miami.

As they get set for Tuesday night's game there would be no better way to send an early message than by knocking off the Heat to start the season.

What's next: The Bulls practice at the Berto Center and then fly down to Miami Monday afternoon.

Watch out for: Noah (groin) and Kirk Hinrich (shoulder). The pair went through all of Sunday's practice and both said they were feeling good and sounded as if they would play Tuesday. Noah went as far as target="_blank">saying he was "100 percent" ready. Thibodeau will be anxious to see how they respond after missing the last week, even more in Noah's case.

Have people forgotten how good Rose is?

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
2:06
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls stretches before his team's game against the Detroit Pistons on April 7, 2013 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.Dan Lippitt/NBAE via Getty ImagesDerrick Rose's return makes the Bulls a real threat in the Eastern Conference.
Derrick Rose's reputation and his game are two separate entities. They are not interconnected forever -- which is an important distinction to make as the new NBA season rolls around.

Rose's reputation took a major hit last season when, after being medically cleared to play by team doctors with several months left in the season, he decided not play a single second. He was chastised by frustrated fans for not finding a way to be on the floor to help out his ailing team during the playoffs. In the midst of all the consternation surrounding his decision it's important to recognize a fact that never wavered despite the swirling perception around the MVP: While Rose's pristine public image took a hit, his game remained the same.

As the NBA gets set to enter a new season, one filled with championship expectations for Rose and his Bulls teammates, it feels as if a portion of fans simply forgot how great Rose was when healthy. Obviously, there's no guarantee that Rose will return at the same level after having surgery on his knee over 16 months ago, but many within the Bulls organization are convinced the 24-year-old Rose has a chance to return and be the same player -- if not better.

"He's put a ton of time into his shooting because basically that's all he could do along with his rehab stuff," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said during the Las Vegas Summer League in July. "Each year that Derrick's been in the league he's added to his game. So this is a continuation of all the things he's done in the past. Every summer he's concentrated on something and we may see more post-ups and things of that nature, more catch-and-shoot for him also."

Up to this point in his career Rose's game has been largely based on speed and quickness, the ability to change directions in the blink of an eye, but even if he doesn't come back with exactly the same burst, his game would be even more rounded with the addition of a more consistent jump shot.

The re-emergence of Rose, combined with the remaining core of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and free agent Mike Dunleavy, Jr. is formidable. If that group can stay healthy the Bulls should be right in the middle of the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Do the Bulls have a chance to knock off the Miami Heat in a seven-game series? Absolutely. Do I believe they will if LeBron James stays healthy? No.

Same goes for the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference. Indiana made some nice moves this summer and Paul George is getting better every season. Danny Granger will be back and looking to prove all of his doubters wrong as he heads into a contract year. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce's presence can only help a Brooklyn Nets team that managed to lose a seven-game series to a Bulls team that played without Rose, and Deng and Hinrich for a majority of the series. But in the end, if James stays healthy, all three of these teams are likely playing for second place behind the Heat.

It's within this battle for second that one of the most interesting storylines of the season will develop. After taking the Heat to a Game 7 in last year's Eastern Conference finals, the Pacers believe that they are the closest to knocking the Heat off their throne. Roy Hibbert has turned himself into an All-Star center and Luis Scola's presence on Indiana's roster will make them even stronger.

Some believe that Brooklyn, with Garnett and Pierce joining All-Stars Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, can push the Heat more than any other team in the East. Garnett and Pierce figure to give new coach Jason Kidd the type of passion that was sorely lacking at times last year in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, given their salary cap restrictions, the Bulls didn't make many splashy moves. Butler heads into the season as the starting two guard, but will he be able to maintain the success he had towards the end of last season? Dunleavy is a solid addition, but he doesn't have anywhere close to the star power of Garnett or Pierce. Still, under Thibodeau the Bulls have developed the type of defensive-minded system that other teams salivate over. Noah, Deng and Butler have proven to be three of the most dependable defenders in the league and play hard every night.

The Bulls may not have added a major piece in the summer, but they are getting back their most important piece of all -- Rose.

Amid all the hoopla and anger surrounding Rose's decision not to play, many seem to have forgotten that he won the MVP award just a couple seasons ago. In that MVP season of 2010-11, Rose averaged 25 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds and missed just one game. In his injury-riddled 2011-12 season he still averaged 21.8 points, 7.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 39 games.

George, Granger, Pierce and Garnett are all great players -- but none of them have the type of talent Rose has. If Rose can prove he is close to the same player he used to be, he will lead his team to that showdown against the Heat everyone has been wanting to see again.

The Bulls might be playing for second place this season but, with Rose back in the fold, at least get the order straight when it comes to ranking teams behind the Miami Heat. It's the Bulls -- led by Rose -- and then everybody else.

2013-14 schedule: 10 games to watch

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
5:57
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Derrick Rose/Lebron JamesMike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose's first regular season game in about 18 months will come against LeBron James and the Heat on Oct. 29.
Derrick Rose's likely return headlines what is one of the most anticipated Chicago Bulls' schedules in recent memory. Here's a quick look at 10 of the most intriguing matchups on the 2013-14 schedule that was released on Tuesday.

HeatBulls at Miami Heat, Oct. 29: The regular season opener. This is scheduled to be Rose's first regular season game since April 25, 2012. This is also the Heat's ring night and the fans in Miami will be going nuts. This is the game all Bulls fans, and league executives, will have circled on their schedule.

KnicksNew York Knicks at Bulls, Oct. 31: The Bulls' home opener. Rose is scheduled to play his first game at the United Center since tearing his ACL against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first game of the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs.

CavaliersCleveland Cavaliers at Bulls, Nov. 11: Rose and Cleveland star point guard Kyrie Irving have yet to face each other in a professional game. This would mark the first time assuming both are healthy.

ClippersBulls at Los Angeles Clippers, Nov. 24: The Bulls get their first shot at the new-look Clippers led by Doc Rivers. It will be interesting to see how Rose and Co. handle Chris Paul in the middle of their first long West Coast swing of the season.

HeatHeat at Bulls, Dec. 5: LeBron James and his teammates make their first appearance in the United Center this season. Don't think they've forgotten that this was the place their 27-game winning streak ended last season.

RocketsBulls at Houston Rockets, Dec. 18: The Bulls embark on arguably their most difficult back-to-back of the season as they face Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston and then follow that up against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder the next night.

NetsBulls at Brooklyn Nets, Dec. 25: Rose and his teammates have always talked about what an honor it is to play on Christmas Day. They'll get their chance again this year against the Kevin Garnett-led Nets in Brooklyn.

WarriorsBulls at Golden State Warriors, Feb. 6: After struggling for years at Oracle Arena, the Bulls picked up a blowout win there last season. With Andre Iguodala in Golden State and Rose back with the Bulls, this game should be action-packed. Plus, Tom Thibodeau will face Brian Scalabrine, now an assistant coach on Mark Jackson's staff, for the first time.

HeatHeat at Bulls, March 9: The Bulls are back in a familiar role -- playing a Sunday afternoon nationally-televised game against the league's best. This is the final time in the regular season these two teams meet and should be a good primer for a possible Eastern Conference finals showdown.

PacersIndiana Pacers at Bulls, March 24: This rivalry has gained a lot of steam over the past few seasons. Many pundits believe the Pacers have passed the Bulls as far as threats to the Heat go. Thibodeau will have his team amped up for this game.

Butler: Bulls can't let Heat three-peat

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
11:12
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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The rivalry between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat figures to intensify this season as the Bulls try to stop the Heat from winning three straight NBA championships.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported last week that the Bulls and Heat are expected to face off against each other in the season opener on Oct. 29. Bulls third-year guard Jimmy Butler says he and his teammates will not be looking forward to seeing LeBron James and Co. get their championship rings.

"I don't think anybody wants to watch that on our team so we won't pay too much attention to it," Butler said Tuesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "They deserved it. They won a championship, definitely, but they got to deal with the Chicago Bulls for 48 minutes coming out right after that, they get their rings."

Butler also acknowledged that there is a growing dislike between the Bulls and the Heat. The Heat have knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.

"I think so," Butler said when asked about the dislike between the teams. "But it's not just us, it's the city. That rivalry, it's crazy. They're the back-to-back champions and when you think three-peat, you think Chicago so we can't let that happen."

Beat the Heat? Bulls need to be wary of Indy

May, 30, 2013
5/30/13
4:03
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
LeBron James and Paul GeorgeBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsHave the Pacers supplanted the Bulls as the top challenger to the Heat in the East?
CHICAGO -- As the NBA world watches the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers square off in the Eastern Conference finals, the Chicago Bulls are left to ponder a question that may be growing increasingly uncomfortable.

The Heat have been the favorites in the East since the moment LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in 2010, but with the Pacers charging hard for the Heat's crown the Bulls have to wonder if they are still the best team in their own division, let alone the conference.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5