CHICAGO -- On May 26, 2011, the Heat sent a gust through the Windy City when they used a furious rally to knock then-MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls out of the playoffs en route to the NBA Finals.
The series was over, but the rivalry was just beginning.
The stage was set for Rose and LeBron James, the last two regular season MVPs, to battle each year for conference supremacy.
Instead, on Thursday night, Miami played a Chicago team again without the services of Rose, who missed all of last year with an ACL injury, and will miss the rest of this regular season with a torn meniscus.
“It’s tough,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s not good for the league. It’s not good for competition. You want to see all the players out there, and may the best team win.”
The Heat-Bulls rivalry has been bubbling for years. In three of the four Finals trips in franchise history, Miami defeated Chicago along the way. In 2007, Chicago swept the defending champion Heat out of the playoffs.
Chris Bosh especially has had his ups-and-downs against the Bulls since joining the Heat.
He shot 1 for 18 in a regular season game in Chicago in February 2011 before rebounding in that year’s playoff series, averaging 23.2 points per game.
Bosh was involved in a memorable sequence in the 2013 East semifinals when Chicago center Joakim Noah taunted Bosh as he argued with Mario Chalmers.
“Rivalry, that’s what it’s about,” Bosh said.
“There’s lots of passion out on the court. It’s total effort. Trying your hardest and that not being enough to win the game.
“Both teams really have to dig deep just to win.”
Rose tore his meniscus last month during a noncontact play in the opposite knee of his ACL tear.
In the first two seasons of the Big 3 era, both times the Bulls and Heat finished first and second in the Eastern Conference respectively.
But Rose has yet to see James in the playoffs since that night in May 2011, which ended with James blocking Rose in the game’s final seconds.
Rose, who grew up in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, spoke to the media Thursday for the first time since his knee surgery.
“I think about it,” Rose said of the opportunity to knock Miami out in the East.
“The reality is I have an injury. Of course you think about it, you get frustrated. But for me, it’s a bigger picture.”
Udonis Haslem said he expected the Heat would have to go through the Bulls and Rose every year after their first tussle in the playoffs.
“They were put together with a core group of guys — Rose, Boozer and Joakim,” Haslem said.
“We kind of knew that we would bump heads with them. It’s two competitive teams going against each other. The intensity just continues to build.”
The state of the Eastern Conference may allow the teams to match up again in the postseason, despite Chicago missing the services of its best player.
Only three teams are over .500, and the Bulls entered Thursday’s game as the only East team besides Miami and Indiana without a negative point differential.
Interestingly, Rose himself did not rule out a potential playoff return when asked about the possibility, saying that if his knee healed and “the situation is right,” he would return to the court.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau added that Miami’s status as defending champions continues to motivate his team, regardless of who is on the court.
“Until someone knocks them off, you’re chasing them,” Thibodeau said. “We know how good they are.”
As for the Heat-Bulls rivalry, which may never live up to its potential as an annual battle deserving of its own place in NBA lore, players just want to see teams at full strength.
“I worry about [Rose’s] health,” Haslem said.
“As a competitor, you never like to see anybody hurt. I hate that he has to be out, because he’s an incredible player. Rivalry or not, I hate to see Derrick Rose go down.”