Bulls fall to Heat in chippy affair

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Bulls fall to Heat in chippy affair

MIAMIFinally, the rivalry thats been discussed so often, not only in the cities where the teams play, but across the basketball universe, manifested itself in the chippy play that brought back memories of postseason basketball from an era long passed.

Unfortunately for the Bulls (47-16)who were without Derrick Rose for the third consecutive game and 26th of the seasonthat resulted in an 83-72 loss Thursday night to the Heat (45-17) at American Airlines Arena, as MVP candidate LeBron James was simply too much for the visitors.

The Bulls were offensively flawless in the early going, knocking down each of their first five attempts, as the starting post tandem of Carlos Boozer (10 points, five rebounds) and Joakim Noah (15 points, 10 rebounds) took advantage of the absence of Heat All-Star Chris Bosh on the interior.

Luol Deng (11 points), in his first game back in the lineup after missing a pair of contests due to a rib injury, was also productive from the outset, displaying no ill effects from the brief layoff, as he knocked down outside jumpers.

However, the Heat tandem of Mario Chalmers (16 points, five assists), who seemingly got to the rim at will, and James (27 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) literally went on the offensive, literally, to keep pace with their guests in the opening period.

James repeatedly penetrated and hit pull-up jumpers en route to a 15-point frame, as he was matched up with Noah on switches, aiding the hosts in taking a 27-23 advantage after a quarter of play.

Backup point guard John Lucas III (16 points, six rebounds, four assists) showcased his instant-offense game in the second periodpicking up for fill-in starter C.J. Watson, who focused on distributing the ball in his first-quarter stintto propel the Bench Mob, as the only true scorer in the unit.

When the regulars returned, Noah again made an impactboth with his play and inadvertently, as he took a flagrant-two foul from Heat reserve sharpshooter James Jones, leading to the latters ejection and inciting the partisan crowd to chant derogatory slogans at the Bulls centerhelping the Bulls maintain a slim cushion.

But Miami kept plugging away behind James and his struggling sidekick, Dwyane Wade (18 points, five assists), eventually seizing the lead from the visitors late in the quarter, as Chicagos offense went through one of its periodic droughts.

While the Heat werent exactly proficient at scoring themselves, they managed to go into the intermission with a narrow 42-40 edge.

Miami gained some separation after the break, as Wade came to life, Chalmers continued to contribute and James picked his spots in which to dominate, and while Noah put up a good fight, his presence alone couldnt prevent the Bulls from falling into a hole. All of that got overshadowed, however, as the chippiness of the game took center stage, with Wade shoving longtime rival Rip Hamilton, leading to a double technical and flagrant foul on Wade.

Minutes later, James set a hard screen in the backcourt on the diminutive Lucas, as he tried to pressure Chalmers full-court, leaving him slightly dazed before going after the much bigger man, leading to technical on both players and posturing between the two teams.

Although Lucas offense and a spark off the bench from Taj Gibson kept the Bulls from facing an insurmountable deficit, the Bulls faced a 66-61 deficit heading into the final stanza, mostly due to the runaway freight-train quality and circus-shot ability of James.

Behind Lucas offensive prowess, the Bulls stayed within striking distance early in the fourth period, as the visitors defense continued to make life tough for vaunted rivals on the offensive end of the floor.

But Chicago had their own issues manufacturing offensean eye injury to Deng didnt help mattersand by the midway point of the quarter, Miami extended its lead to double digits.

While the Bulls didnt let the game get out of hand, they simply didnt have enough offense to muster a comeback in the playoff-style battle and the Heat wore them down with similarly-stifling defense and timely scoring and playmaking by James, leading to baskets from co-star Wade and role players alike.

As the game wound down, the festive atmosphere in the building built up to a crescendo, as the home crowd once again celebrated the vanquishing of their chief foes.

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

After the Bulls got off to a 3-0 start, it looked like this would be a team that might be able to give LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers a run for their money in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls proceeded to lose their next three, tempering those optimistic expectations. What those first six games proved is that they're an inconsistent bunch, and it's been a microcosm of their season past the halfway mark.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Entering Thursday, the Bulls were slotted in as the No. 8 seed in the East with a 21-22 record through 43 games.

Former Bulls forward/center Horace Grant, who was named a special advisor to president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf last year, joined SportsTalk Live on Thursday to talk about the team's current state, and why Bulls fans shouldn't panic just yet.

Check out his comments in the video above.

See what else he had to say during his SportsTalk Live appearance and on In The Loop below:

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

ATLANTA — Jimmy Butler insisted being a starter in the All-Star Game means next to nothing, but it seems to go against his never-ending battle for credibility and validation as a legit superstar.

Moments after it was revealed he would be an All-Star starter for the first time and make his third overall trip to All-Star weekend, he sang the same nonchalant tune.

"It hasn't changed at all," Butler said on a conference call Thursday evening. "Obviously, it's a huge accomplishment and honor to be named a starter. But it's All-Star weekend. There are going to be a lot of good players there. I guess it's just another name thrown in with some decent players."

The NBA's format for selecting the All-Star starters changed this season, with fans no longer being the sole group that gets to vote for starters. If it was still a fans-only vote, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid would've started in Butler's place.

But with the new formula that allows the media and the players to take part in the vote, the fan vote accounts for just 50 percent of the formula. So Butler joined Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee's Giannis Antekounmpo and Toronto's DeMar DeRozan in the starting five for the Eastern Conference.

Butler's is averaging 24.8 points with 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, career-highs across the board, and had he not been selected as a starter, the Bulls' 20-21 record would not have prevented coaches from selecting him as a reserve as they had the last two seasons.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Jimmy Butler jersey right here]

He won't be joined in the starting lineup by Dwyane Wade, who finished second in backcourt voting behind Irving, but cast his vote for his teammate anyway and hopes Wade will be selected as a reserve.

"Of course. He's been a huge part of what we're doing here, and I think he has played extremely well the first part of the season," Butler said. "He got my vote. I will tell you that."

Golden State's Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will start for the West, along with Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and New Orleans' Anthony Davis, a Chicago native.

The fun-filled and busy weekend in New Orleans begins Feb. 17, from the league events to the parties to the festivities and then finally the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

Butler likely views it as more of an accomplishment for his team of trainers and confidants then himself.

"It's fun, man. You get to know the other really good players in the league, and you get to know a little bit about them," Butler said. "And the experience that you get to be a part of, whether it be the Jordan party or taking your guys with you everywhere. That's the most fun part for me, my trainers, my brothers, everybody that's behind the scenes helping me gets to experience it too."