Heat look to regain defensive edge against Bulls

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For the second game in a row, the Heat will face a team that is without its leading scorer — and that’s not necessarily a good thing for Miami.

The Heat (31-29) will host the Chicago Bulls, who are expected to be without Zach LaVine, on Saturday. He’s averaging 27.5 points but is in the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

Even so, Chicago has won three of its past four games without LaVine.

That could sound familiar to the Heat. On Friday night, the Heat lost 118-103 to the Atlanta Hawks, who were without their top scorer, Trae Young.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who was asked if the Heat perhaps had a mental let down knowing the Hawks didn’t have their normal firepower, wasn’t buying the premise.

“That has nothing to do with it,” Spoelstra said. “We just didn’t bring it on the defensive end of the court.”

The Heat had a lot of issues on Friday, allowing the Hawks to shoot 53.8 percent from the floor while also making 15 3-pointers. Miami was also beaten on the boards by eight rebounds and got outscored on fast-break points, 19-6.

Further, Duncan Robinson, a career 42.4 percent three-point shooter, was just 2-for-10 from deep. And Goran Dragic, who entered the weekend as Miami’s fifth-leading scorer (13.2), was held to three points.

Meanwhile, the Bulls (25-34), who are just outside the playoff picture, are led by former Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who is averaging 23.9 points and 11.3 rebounds.

He has played 16 games since being acquired by the Bulls on March 25. In Chicago’s most recent game, Vucevic had 18 points and a season-high-tying 16 rebounds on Thursday night, leading the Bulls to a 108-91 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

“Part of it is experience,” Vucevic said. “Part of it is just growing as a team, establishing an identity that you’re going to bring it night in and night out.”

Besides LaVine, the Bulls on Saturday likely will be without forward Troy Brown, who has missed two straight games due to a sprained left ankle.

Billy Donovan, who is in his first year coaching the Bulls, is using Lauri Markkanen off the bench. Markkanen, who was the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is averaging a career-low 14.5 points, but he has become more efficient. His two-point percentage (58.3) is a career high, and the same can be said for his long-range shooting (39.3).

Another key Bulls player is point guard Coby White, who has improved in his second year in the NBA. He is averaging 14.5 points and 4.5 assists, and his dazzling speed consistently penetrates defenses.

Veteran Bulls guard Garrett Temple believes this team is just now finding its groove.

“That’s what happens in the NBA when you have a new coaching staff and a young team,” Temple said. “It doesn’t happen overnight.

“We want to continue to strive and get into the playoffs if we can. Our guys are playing really hard.”

–Field Level Media

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