1) This game was just like a lot of other games during the streak - Miami immediately got down double digits on the road due to a lack of focus and effort (and also starting a guy who is not an NBA rotation-level player), then spent all game grinding their way back, finally taking the lead late in the third quarter. But in the fourth quarter, just when Miami usually pulls away to win the game, it was the Bulls who made plays: Luol Deng, shooting 30% on triples for the season, made two back-to-back; followed by Jimmy Butler, shooting 32%, drilling one. With Miami needing to catch a break to stay in it, a bizarre pair of no-flagrant/flagrant foul calls involving KJ James both went against Miami, and that was it. But, honestly, that's what makes the streak so amazing. This is what happens in the NBA - someone plays a little better than you, gets a bounce or two, gets a call at home, and you lose. Everyone loses, sometimes. Except for two straight months, Miami never did. It's the most amazing (and bizarre) basketball feat I've ever seen, honestly, and I couldn't have enjoyed it more. I tip my cap to the Heat - thanks for making this part of the season so fun. And you know what? I'm feeling magnanimous: with Derrick Rose out, the Bulls aren't even that unlikable (except for Nate Robinson, who is an absurdly unlikable human being) - I tip my cap to you, too, Bulls. I hope you will remember this game fondly as the highlight of your season after the New Jersey Nets send you home 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs. Let's go (back to late season NBA drudgery)!
2) Biggest stretch of the game: midway through the fourth quarter, Coach Spo put KJ James on Kirk Hinrich, and Wade on Luol Deng. It's a crossmatch - normally, it would be the opposite. He's done that before, most notably against Indiana, and it has worked. The reasoning is solid: KJ should be able to disrupt the offense by pressuring the primary ballhandler, and Wade is athletic enough to defend any small forward. But tonight it just didn't work: Deng immediately made two triples by simply spotting up and shooting it over Wade. He's a 30% shooter, so they are probably bad shots, but tonight they went in. Then Deng took Wade to the post, bullied him backwards, forcing help to come, and found Jimmy Butler for the third straight triple. In the moment it was frustrating. But in retrospect, it's fine. Like I said, it's worked before, and even tonight it forced shots that you can live with. There's a reason Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler have poor three point shooting percentages: they are bad shooters. Tonight they went in. Coach Spo: I apologize for thinking bad thoughts about you.
3) Most bizarre stretch of the game: a short while after the Bulls barrage of threes, KJ James drove down the lane, was loose to the rim, and Bulls power forward Taj Gibson, who is most well-known for being physical and aggressive (to his credit, he takes it right up to the line, and sometimes a little over), reached from behind KJ, lassoed him around the neck and shoulder, and pulled him backwards.. KJ got his legs folded up under him awkwardly, but he was fine: he's a machine. But it was obviously a flagrant foul. That is the whole point of the flagrant rule: a flagrant one is "unnecessary contact." Grabbing a guy running free to the rim from behind and pulling him down is unnecessary. It's not a basketball play. If someone did that to Taj Gibson - or most other players in the league - the guy would get up and go right back at the offending player. Because KJ deals with this night after night, he just shrugs it off. The refs correctly called it a flagrant foul, went to the monitor, everyone assumed, to see whether it should be an ejection, then somehow decided that it wasn't a flagrant foul. I have no idea what happened - it's statistical fact that home teams get more calls, but this was a dead ball situation, it wasn't an emotional bang-bang decision swayed by crowd noise. And, it's another example of why I hate replay: the refs got the initial call correct, then changed it to an incorrect call after watching the replay! So play resumes, KJ is fuming - understandably - Carlos Boozer comes over to set a screen on him, and KJ pops him intentionally with a shoulder. It wasn't even remotely as bad or dangerous as Gibson's foul (although it was clearly on purpose - I will grant you that). The refs instantly call it a flagrant, review it again, and let the flagrant stand. Look, I'm not stupid, I understand why they called KJ's flagrant. It was an absolute "f u" to the refs, and they were embarrassed by it. Also, if they don't call it a flagrant, someone on the Bulls is going to re-retaliate back on the other end, and there is going to be a fight. And Miami probably would have lost the game anyways. I'm just saying, mannn, that's another example of what a cool and dignified ballplayer KJ James is. He takes more ridiculous hits up high than anyone, rarely bitches, and isn't even allowed to retaliate. Earlier in this game, Kirk Hinrich had tackled him to the ground in transition without making any play on the ball whatsoever - again, for any other player in the league, it gets called a flagrant. You can't tackle a guy to the ground in transition. Except KJ. It seems crazy unfair - I don't know how he doesn't lose his temper, like, all the time. I would. This happens to all of the best and most physical players: it happened to Shaq, it happens to Dwight Howard, and it happens to King James. Just seems like it would be fairer to ref them the same way the other players in the league get reffed. I don't get it, maybe I am stupid...
4) In the second quarter, KJ was returning to the game after a rest on the bench and Eric Reid reported he was returning "sans headband." I felt a little uptight - "What? Why?" But KJ strode into the picture, and was putting his headband back on his head. M.Minutos also exhaled: "I don't know why, but I was worried." One, I'm glad I wasn't the only one whose heart skipped a beat because a basketball player was going to play without a headband. Whew... Two, terrible job, Eric Reid: YOU CAN'T MESS UP SOMETHING HUGE LIKE THAT!!!
5) This guy who writes for ESPN, Kevin Pelton, tried to break down, statistically. the effect that Derrick Rose might have on the Bulls if he suddenly decided to return this late in the season. Hard to put an actual numerical value on "douchey," I realize that. Anyways, Pelton is wayyy smarter than me - he goes through all these statistics to demonstrate that the Bulls would probably be better with Rose. To me, it's 50-50: they either would be better or worse. But then Pelton concludes by saying: "surely, some version of these calculations is playing out in [Rose's] head." Haaaa!!! Derrick Rose? Double haaaa!!! First of all, his doctors have cleared him to play. He is choosing not to. He won't even sit on the bench with the team. So I'm pretty sure he doesn't give a crap about the Bulls. Great teammate. Second of all, you're talking about Derrick Rose! This kid is one of the all-time mouth breathers! I'm pretty sure most of his thoughts revolve around what cartoon is coming up next on Nickelodeon, and what kind of frozen pizza his brother Reggie Rose is microwaving him for dinner....There are a lot of unlikable players in this league, especially Russell Westbrook, but even he goes out there and plays his ass off every night. I don't like him, but I do respect him. Derrick Rose is hanging his teammates out to dry, he's blowing off the season like it, and they, don't mean anything to him. They must despise him.
6) Watched the US Men's national soccer team play a World Cup qualifier at Azteca in Mexico City last night. Mexico is a far better team than the US, obviously, since they don't have much better to do than play soccer, and Azteca is a super-tough place to play. It's like combining playing the Nuggets in Denver (high altitude) with playing the Jazz in Utah (virulently racist fans perpetually on the edge of violence). Mexico has an absurd record in World Cup qualifying games at home - something like 70 wins, 1 loss, and 5 ties. Last night's game basically consisted of Mexico passing the ball around on the US's side of the field for 90 seconds, then firing a shot wide. In the first half, there was a play where Mexico could have been awarded a penalty kick but wasn't - seemed like a good no-call, it was off the ball, and a bit of a dive, though the Mexicans didn't think so. In the second half, there was a blatant blown call - this time a Mexican guy got hammered to the ground from behind just as he was about to one-time a pass into the back of the net. It absolutely should have been a penalty kick for Mexico. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. In the post-game show, former American player Alexei Lalas pronounced the game a "classic American performance - solid defensive effort, look for opportunities if they present themselves, but mostly don't make any big mistakes." But they also had a Mexican dude on the postgame show, and he was like, "true, but if those penalties are given, Mexico wins this game pretty easily." And then Alexei Lalas was like, "well, but that's why this was a classic American performance - a little luck is part of it." Yes! Americans own "luck!' We''re on easy street now, people!!!
I'll miss the streak - it was so much fun during a time of the year where the season can often be boring. The Heat have the #1 seed in the East on lock, and nobody could care less about #1 seed for the Finals. It doesn't seem to give you much of an edge with the 2-3-2 format. So with 11 completely meaningless games left, it's time to rest guys, or as Spo likes to call it, "preventative maintenance." The next game is Friday in New Orleans. I'd barely play the starters - give them a mental health day off. They've earned it. If you need me before then, I'll be going to the Magic City Casino down in Miami. I'm American: I'm about to blow upppp!