Carlos Boozer turned his shoulder and knocked Dwyane Wade to the floor, while Nate Robinson shoved LeBron James as the NBA’s reigning MVP leaped near the basket.
All in the same sequence, no less.
It was physical, rugged and exactly what the Miami Heat needed as part of their preparations for the playoffs, which start this coming weekend. James scored 24 points, Wade finished with 22 and the Heat set a franchise record for home wins in a season by topping the Chicago Bulls 105-93 on Sunday.
”It was good, especially against this team,” said James, who had seven rebounds and six assists. ”You’re definitely not just going to show up and win against these guys. You’re going to have to work for it. So for us, to continue to get better and for us to have a really physical game, good game, testy game, we liked it.”
Chicago had more fouls (30) than field goals (29), the first time the Bulls have managed that in a regular-season game since Nov. 19, 2008.
The Bulls sent Miami to the line a season-high 41 times, and at times were so reliant on the 3-point shot that they went more than 16 minutes to open the second half without a single 2-point basket.
”We’re trying to get ready,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”And you play a team that’s physical like this, it gets you ready.”
The Bulls shot 35 percent, and were far better outside the 3-point arc (11-for-26, 42 percent) than inside it (18-for-56, 32 percent). Robinson missed 11 shots himself. Miami’s ”Big Three” of James, Wade and Chris Bosh missed 12 – combined.
”That’s the best team in the NBA as of right now,” Robinson said.
Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen each scored 15 for Miami, which improved to 36-4 at home – topping the 35-6 mark by the 2004-05 Heat. Bosh had 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks for Miami, which also got 11 points from Mike Miller.
Miami is at Cleveland on Monday, with Wade, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier not even making the trip. James said he would be a game-time decision Monday, but ”leaning toward” not playing against his former team.
Boozer finished with 16 points and 20 rebounds for the Bulls, who snapped Miami’s 27-game winning streak last month. Luol Deng led Chicago in scoring with 19, Robinson and Kirk Hinrich scored 14 apiece and Jimmy Butler added 13 for the Bulls, who played without Joakim Noah (foot), Taj Gibson (knee), Richard Hamilton (one-game NBA suspension) and of course, Derrick Rose, who has been out all year while coming back from a knee injury.
”We just have to keep moving forward and concentrate on improving,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”Hopefully we will get a couple of guys back soon. I don’t want us thinking about the playoffs. I want us thinking about the game (Monday) against the Orlando Magic.”
The loss keeps Chicago in the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference, just behind Atlanta. Miami has wrapped up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and opens the postseason at home next weekend against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bulls (43-37) are a game behind Atlanta (44-36), though Chicago would own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Chicago is at Orlando on Monday and plays host to Washington on Wednesday. Atlanta hosts Toronto on Tuesday and closes at the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
”We need to play well these last two games and get as healthy as we can be,” Hinrich said.
For the Heat, that get-healthy mission has been the mantra for a few weeks now, with Wade, James, Bosh, Haslem and Battier all among those dealing with nagging issues of late.
And after Sunday, there might have been a few more bumps and bruises. There were no fewer than six instances of Heat players ending up on the floor in the first 6 minutes alone.
”We wanted to win,” Bosh said, ”and we always want to protect home court.”
James made his first seven shots, one of them a dunk off a bounce pass by Chalmers to give Miami a 46-31 lead midway through the second quarter. The dunk was with such force, Hinrich found himself flinching to get out of the ball’s way.
The Bulls bounced back quickly. A 23-10 run to end the first half got Chicago within 56-54 at the break, and briefly took the lead when Jimmy Butler converted a four-point play to make it 61-60.
But the Heat regained control before long. Up 78-71 with 3:40 left in the third, Wade tried to throw a soft lob to James, on the play where he got leveled by Boozer and Robinson sent James into an awkward collision with the basket stanchion.
A clear-path foul against Boozer was called, the lead went to 82-71 on that sequence and the Heat still were up nine entering the fourth.
”I thought we played very well as a team from the start of the game to the end,” Wade said.
NOTES: Bosh had four blocked shots, the sixth time he’s done that since joining the Heat. … Chicago allowed 30 first-quarter points for the third time in its last four games. … The Heat bench went into hysterics in the second quarter, when a young boy who was drawn up to look like Andersen – replete with the multi-colored neck tattoos – was shown on the scoreboard screens throughout the arena. … Butler, perhaps generously listed by the Bulls at 6-foot-7, took the opening tap against Bosh. Predictably, Bosh prevailed. … Media outlets from France, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Italy, Australia, China and Spain were among those in attendance.