Heat Check: Loss to Bulls shows Miami may need home-court in playoffs

Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) is defended by Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler (21) during the first half.

Rob Grabowski/Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Three road games against strong opponents, three Miami Heat losses.

Perhaps home-court advantage in the playoffs will be a big deal after all?

The Chicago Bulls scored the first nine points of overtime to defeat the Heat 95-88 on Sunday afternoon in a playoff-type battle at the United Center.

The Bulls and the Heat split their four regular-season meetings, the home team winning each time.

Miami (43-17) began the day 1 1/2 games behind Indiana (46-16) for the top seed — and home-court advantage — in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers played at Dallas on Sunday night.

Conventional wisdom has been that being healthy would be more important that home-court advantage for the Heat, who are trying to three-peat as NBA champions. But losses this week at Houston, San Antonio and Chicago have given Miami its second three-game losing streak of the season.

Chicago native Dwyane Wade had 25 points, LeBron James 17 and Chris Bosh 15 for Miami, which sank 21 of 22 free throws.

Chris Andersen had two points, 13 rebounds and six blocks in 33 minutes as his size was needed against the bruising Bulls.

Before the game, James said he was done wearing a mask to protect a broken nose suffered on Feb. 20. He had been expected to wear it for at least another week.

James said the mask had been uncomfortable. Going without it, however, did not help him find his outside game. He shot 8 of 23 to make it a combined 23 of 59 (39 percent) on the three-game road trip that following his 61-point performance on Monday against Charlotte.

James also failed to get to the foul line for the first time since Dec. 2, 2009.

The Bulls set up their OT victory by scored 13 consecutive points to go ahead 75-74 with 6:34 left in the fourth quarter.

D.J. Augustin left the bench scored 22 points — 4 of 6 from behind the arc — for the Bulls (35-28).

Miami held a 67-59 lead after three quarters. The Heat had scored 15 straight points late in the second quarter to build a 43-37 halftime advantage.

THE TURNING POINT

Heat vs. Bulls

The Bulls scored the first nine points of overtime. Miami didn’t score until James’ layup with 1:24 left in the extra period.

THE DIFFERENCE MAKER

Joakim Noah (20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists) certainly was a force in the middle, but Augustin’s performance fueled the Bulls’ win. His 3-pointer was Chicago’s first OT bucket.

STAT OF THE GAME

Miami committed 18 turnovers, resulting in 19 Chicago points.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Heat will return home for a four-game homestand beginning Monday at 7:30 against the Washington Wizards.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.