Every NBA MVP since 2009 was on the bench in a suit on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Like everyone else, LeBron James and Derrick Rose tried their hardest not to fall asleep during the second quarter.
Luckily for everyone involved, including a nationally TV audience, the tempo picked up in the second half and the shots began to fall in the Heat’s 93-79 victory against the Bulls. With James out with a broken nose, Heat center Greg Oden received his first start since 2009 and power forward Chris Bosh led all scorers with 28 points.
The Bulls’ 79 points were a season low for Heat opponents. With so little scoring, it was a fitting return to conference play for the Heat (40-14) after being out West for so long. It was Miami’s first home game in 20 days after going 5-1 on the road against Western Conference opponents. The 19 days between home games was the longest such stretch in franchise history.
“It was a welcome-back-to-the-Eastern-Conference style of basketball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
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In other words, it was an ugly game.
And the second quarter was almost unwatchable. Both teams combined to start the period 0-of-14 shooting, and the Bulls (29-26) didn’t make a field goal in the period until the six-minute mark. Overall, the Heat forced seven shot-clock violation and the Bulls went 29 of 81 (35.8 percent) from the field. The game was tied 40-40 at halftime, but the Heat shot 47.7 percent from field in the second half to pull away.
Despite James being out of action, the Heat held its second opponent in a row to a season low in scoring. The Thunder scored just 81 points on Thursday.
“Our defensive intensity and physicality was more than adequate and that’s the way they play,” Spoelstra said. “Sometimes they get you in tough situations and make you have to grind out the game. I thought we did a pretty good job of it.”
Fitted for a mask on Saturday, James was ruled out by team trainers after breaking his nose on Thursday against the Thunder. Missing the game against the Bulls now gives the back-to-back MVP a full week to recover from his injury. The Heat plays the Knicks on Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“One serious hit to the face would have been very tough,” Spoelstra said of James. “It would have been a big set back.”
Bosh went 19 of 23 from the field and 4 of 9 from three-point range to go along with 10 rebounds. Dwyane Wade had 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Wade had seven offensive rebounds, which was a career high.
“I just wanted to be a little more aggressive today,” Bosh said. “I kind of had to get used to it because I didn’t plan on being that aggressive. I didn’t plan on shooting 20-plus shots…but anytime LeBron is out or Dwyane is out that means I have to step up my play just a little bit more.”
Bosh set a career high in both three-pointers made and three-pointers attempted. In his last five games, he has averaged 22.8 points per game while shooting 58 percent (40 of 69) from the field.
“You get tired,” Bosh joked after the game. “You got to be in shape. I was tired early and I told Spo, ‘I forgot what this was like.’ It’s a challenge just having to flip that switch, but I’m totally happy in this system with this team and playing when LeBron and Dwyane are healthy.
“I do have a good time stepping up to a challenge and trying to answer those challenges, but for the most part I like what we’ve been doing here. I’m used to it.”
Oden’s presence in the lineup, coupled with the Bulls’ penchant for packing the paint, allowed Bosh to step out for open jumpers. Oden didn’t play much — less than 13 minutes — but he was effective. He finished with five points and five rebounds and, most importantly, took pressure off of Bosh against an opposing team with size inside.
“I just hope I made somewhat of an impact,” Oden said. “We won the game, so I would like to say I did.”
The Heat has won five in a row, eight of its last nine and 13 of its last 16. With the Bulls slowing down the game’s tempo, the Heat set a season low for turnovers with just eight.
Bosh found his rhythm in the third quarter, going 3 of 6 from the field and 1 of 2 from three-point range. He had the only three-pointer of the quarter and his jumper with 3:13 left in the period gave the Heat a 56-60 lead. Miami increased its advantage to double digits after a crafty alley-oop from Mario Chalmers to Chris Andersen in traffic and running layup by Ray Allen. It marked the Heat’s largest lead of the game to that point.
Prior to the Heat’s run, the game featured nine lead changes and 11 times, but the Heat took a 65-52 lead into the fourth quarter and never allowed the Bulls back into the game.
Michael Beasley started the fourth quarter with a three-pointer. It was Beasley’s first three-pointer since Jan.23 and his 15th of the entire season.
A strong move to the basket by Wade after scooping up his own miss put the Heat ahead 75-58 with 8:23 to play.