The NBA schedule-makers thought that they would be giving the Miami Heat quite a test following the All-Star break.
On the second night of a back-to-back, following a road victory over the Atlanta Hawks, the Heat rode an eight game winning streak into the unfriendly confines of the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls. Outside of that little ol’ Conference Finals where the Heat dismantled the Bulls in 2011, the Bulls had gotten the upper-hand on the Heat, including a 96-89 victory at the American Airlines Arena.
Not this time around. The Heat forced 27 turnovers from Chicago and held the Bulls to a season-low 67 points in a 19-point win. LeBron James had another huge night with 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting accompanying 12 rebounds, seven assists and two steals in only 34 minutes worth of action. James was given an extended rest at the beginning of the fourth as the Dwyane Wade-led lineup managed to extend the Heat’s double-digit lead.
The Heat allowed Chicago to score 22 points in the first quarter and that represented the last time the Bulls would score at least 20 in a quarter for the rest of the night. The Bulls were held to 13 points in 12 minutes on two occasions in the same game–once in the second and finally in the fourth. They shot 37 percent from the field and converted only two of their ten three-point attempts.
Chicago had seven more turnovers than they had assists. They had one more field-goal than they did turnovers. Chicago’s offense was in shambles. While we can certainly attribute that to the Bulls not being a good offensive team without Derrick Rose, it also had a lot to do with the Heat defense shutting off the perimeter and their speed being a nuisance to the Bulls’ interior passing.
The Bulls attempted a number of passes near the basket to get an open look, but saw a majority of those plays either result in turnovers or a pass-out caused by the Heat’s frantic double-teams forcing the ball out of a post-players hands.
Every Bulls starter had at least two turnovers and there were seven different players with at least three.
Miami wasn’t much better with 17 turnovers of their own, but 51 percent shooting and LeBron hitting nearly every last one of his jumpers proved devastating to the notoriously stingy Bulls defense. Hitting the boards proved big, too. Although the Heat lost the rebounding battle 39-36 overall and 13-8 on the offensive glass, it was a significant improvement from the previous meeting where Chicago had 20 more rebounds and 15 more offensive rebounds than the Heat.
James led all rebounders with 12.
LeBron was supported by 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists from Dwyane Wade, as well as 12 points, four rebounds and three steals from Chris Bosh. Ray Allen came off the bench with a rare solid outing on the road, contributing 11 points and hitting one of the Miami’s three three-pointers on the night.
The Bulls kept it close until the mid-way point of the second quarter. Their 28-26 lead with 8:16 left in the second represented their final lead of the night as the Heat proceeded to score the next 13 points, en route to a ten-point lead at the half that featured the Bulls scoring only seven points in the final eight minutes leading up to halftime.
Chicago got as close as seven with 4:48 left in the third following a 6-0 run, but saw that met with a 8-1 run, each Heat point being scored by LeBron either on a jumper or from the foul line.
Miami would lead by as much as 20 after a Dwyane Wade layup pushed the score to 80-60 with 4:26 remaining in the fourth.
Also, Norris Cole dunked. Seriously. It was that kind of night.
The Heat’s four-game road trip comes to an end with a visit to Philadelphia. Miami is on an 11-game winning streak against the Sixers.