Playing without Derrick Rose (foot) for the third consecutive game, the Chicago Bulls suffered an 83-72 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Bulls dropped to 47-16 this season, which remained the best record in the NBA.
The Bulls placed four players in double figures against the Heat (45-17). John Lucas III had a team-high 16 points, six rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes of action, while Joakim Noah chipped in 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting and 10 rebounds. But the Heat proved to be too strong on this night, as LeBron James turned in an MVP-type performance, with 27 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Both teams shot above 50 percent from the field throughout the first quarter as James got off to a hot start, playmaking for himself and teammates – Mario Chalmers had nine of his 16 points in the opening frame. But the Bulls moved the ball well from the outset, with seven assists to no turnovers, and shot 61 percent as they trailed 27-23 through one quarter of play. Although the game slowed offensively in the second quarter, the Heat’s James Jones provided a spark, delivering a shove to the face of Noah, who then had words for the veteran swingman. Jones was assessed a flagrant-two foul by the officials upon further review. The Heat closed the first quarter on a 6-0 run and finished the second with a 7-2 stretch to take a 42-40 lead at halftime. Still, the Bulls scrapped and clawed and certainly deserved to face a two-point deficit at intermission.
The Bulls were sluggish to begin the third quarter, which also featured two plays in which both teams got testy and exchanged words. First, Dwyane Wade (18 points, five assists) essentially threw Rip Hamilton out of bounds at the 9 minute, 5 second mark. Then, James set a hard screen on Lucas, and he appeared to slightly lower his shoulders. Lucas hit the deck hard, stood up and then got in James’ face while initiating words. The Bulls trailed 64-53 late in the third frame but closed it out on an 8-3. They trailed the Heat 66-61 heading into the fourth.
While the Bulls were within three points on two occasions at the beginning of the final quarter, the Heat never looked threatened as they coasted to the victory. Tom Thibodeau’s bunch wasn’t favored to win this contest by any stretch of the imagination – but the veteran coach certainly will not be pleased with his team’s overall effort, especially offensively. The Bulls were outrebounded 45-40 by the Chris Bosh-less Heat and committed 13 turnovers over the final three frames. But Chicago also shot a paltry 35.7 percent from the field, including a combined 10-for-32 out of Luol Deng – who, as expected, returned from a two-game absence with sore ribs – Carlos Boozer and Hamilton.
The Heat’s attack on both ends of the floor appeared overwhelming at times for the Bulls, who were beat at their own game. Usually, the Bulls are the ones who suffocate the opponent on defense and play tough. On Thursday, the Heat got all the licks in and the Bulls weren’t able to match that level of physicality.
Now, the race for the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference has become very interesting. The Bulls had appeared to all but lock up the spot last Thursday when they pulled out a 96-86 overtime win over the Heat, but Chicago is up just 1½ games – one in the loss column – over Miami atop the East standings. The Bulls have three games left while the Heat have four.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Friday before facing the Dallas Mavericks (35-28) on Saturday night at the United Center.