Bulls host Heat in Eastern Conference showdown

Bulls host Heat in Eastern Conference showdown
February 24, 2011, 3:54 pm
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Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
9:49 a.m.

Associated Press

(AP) -- When the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls squared off last month, each team played without significant contributors.

That won't be the case this time around.

Miami visits Chicago on Thursday night in an Eastern Conference showdown with both teams at full strength.

LeBron James and Joakim Noah missed the Bulls' 99-96 victory Jan. 15 at the United Center, and Miami's Chris Bosh departed early with a sprained left ankle that caused him to miss the next four games.

That left Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose virtually alone in the spotlight for their respective teams.

Chicago star Rose had 34 points to lead all scorers, while Wade scored 33 to nearly lead the Heat back from a 14-point deficit.

"We're looking forward to it," Bosh said of Thursday's matchup. "For one, they're one of the best teams in the East, really the league for that matter, and they're playing well. We feel that we dropped a game when we played them in Chicago. We weren't at 100 percent. They weren't at 100 percent. Now it's a different circumstance."

Noah returned to the Bulls' starting lineup Wednesday, scoring seven points and grabbing 16 rebounds in Chicago's 118-113 loss at Toronto. He missed the previous 30 games because of surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, but the Bulls (38-17) went 22-8 without him.

"It's definitely not the result I wanted but we've just got to keep fighting," Noah said of the loss. "We've got to come with a better edge."

The 118 points allowed were the second-most this season by Chicago, which is limiting opponents to 92.4 per game.

"Defensively we just weren't there," Rose said. "When we needed a stop toward the end."

Rose scored 19 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and Carlos Boozer added 24 - his most since he had 24 on Jan. 29 in a 110-89 victory over Indiana.

Rose, who scored a career-high 42 points last Thursday against NBA-leading San Antonio before starting alongside Wade and James for the East in Sunday's All-Star game, is averaging 30.0 points over his last six contests.

The Bulls likely will need him to step up against Miami again.

The streaking Heat (42-15) have won 11 of 12 including Tuesday's 117-97 rout of lowly Sacramento, with their only loss in that stretch coming Feb. 13 at East-leading Boston.

Miami's superstar trio showed no signs of fatigue after All-Star weekend. James scored 31 points, Wade added 23 and Bosh finished with 22 points and nine rebounds against the Kings.

"Me and D-Wade talked before the game ... and said 'Let's go out and dominate this game,'" James said.

The Heat have done anything but dominate the NBA's elite. Miami is 1-6 against Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Dallas and the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Thursday's rematch with the Bulls begins a 13-game stretch in which the Heat face 12 legitimate playoff contenders.

Miami has beaten Chicago in seven of the last 10 meetings, but the Bulls have won three of the last four matchups at the United Center.

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