For all the talk of LeBron James’ impending free agency decision, he sure looked like he was back in Cleveland on Thursday night. And not when that team was winning 66 games.
The Chicago Bulls pounded the Miami Heat, 107-87 on the scoreboard and 49-27 on the glass. Outside of James, no Heat player looked capable of mounting any fight against the Bulls.
The loss was a far departure from opening night, when Miami defeated a Chicago team with Derrick Rose.
“[Chicago] never let up,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They pounded us the entire night. It was clear to see. We were never able to overcome any of that physicality. They deserved to win that game.”
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The Bulls’ dominance inside was most evident whenever Taj Gibson was in the game. Gibson took any defender the Heat threw at him to task, but especially exposed Michael Beasley down on the block.
Gibson finished the game with 19 points in just 24 minutes.
“He’s a great player,” Beasley said. “ He’s a challenge just like I’m a challenge or [Carlos] Boozer’s a challenge. He got two good possessions on me. That wasn’t the whole game. “
Miami was without the services of Dwyane Wade, who remained back at the team hotel with the flu. Chris Andersen also missed the game due to personal reasons.
With a shorthanded squad, James was left to do most of the heavy lifting, and he showed flashes of dominance. But with a sore back, a James one-man show had no chance against the Bulls’ defensive orchestra.
James finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 33 minutes. He sat most of the fourth quarter save for a brief two-minute stretch with the game all but decided.
“This is not an individual sport, I never feel like I have to do it alone,” James said. “When there are opportunities there I take it. I try to get my guys involved as well.”
As for his health, James said it was “a challenge” playing through his bumps and bruises. James has specifically had issues with back spasms and jammed fingers this season.
Ray Allen started in place of Wade, and he finished with just 9 points. Allen found out he would be starting Thursday morning, but he nor any other Heat players were sure about the specifics of Wade’s status.
Allen’s insertion into the starting lineup — his first start since his days in Boston — shuffled the Heat’s rotation. A second quarter lineup of Beasley, Rashard Lewis, Udonis Haslem, Roger Mason Jr. and Norris Cole seemed more apt for a game at the end of the season instead of December.
Andersen’s absence meant Chris Bosh had to fend for himself in the paint, which resulted poorly for most of the night. Bosh was victimized by longtime nemesis Joakim Noah, particularly on the defensive glass. Bosh’s play carried over to the offensive end, where he shot 4-of-11 for 10 points.
“[It’s] all of us,” Spoelstra said when asked about Bosh’s rebounding effort. Spoelstra insisted Bosh’s position on the perimeter was no excuse: “When you get pounded like this, it’s not just one guy.”
Noah starred for Chicago, and ended his night with 17 points and 15 rebounds, outrebounding Miami’s entire starting lineup himself.
Of course, the night would not have been complete without the physical play continuing past the whistle. Kirk Hinrich continued to be the thorn in the side of Miami, mixing it up at every opportunity.
At one point, Hinrich infuriated the normally serene Cole, goading Cole into shoving Hinrich in his neck for a flagrant foul. But Hinrich was even more irritating on offense, hitting three threes en route to 13 points — more than any Heat starter not named James.
The loss was the second straight for Miami, who fell to Detroit at home Tuesday. The Heat will only face more big frontcourts in the next three games, with Kevin Love in Minnesota on Saturday, Detroit again Sunday and a showdown with rival Indiana on Dec. 10.
“We just have to have that desire,” Allen said. “We can’t wait for someone else to go get the ball. We all have to pack the paint. Rebounding is effort and is an awareness, and we all have to pick that up.”
Chicago’s 20-point drubbing was the Heat’s worst loss of the season, and largest defeat since losing 104-70 against the Wizards in April of last year.
“The answer is only from within that locker room,” Spoelstra said. “We have to own it. We have to be much tougher when we get to Minnesota.”