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updated: 1/29/2012 9:46 PM

What, exactly, happened in Miami at Bulls game?

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Now back to your regularly scheduled NBA season, which is about as exciting as a midday nap.

The interruption was Sunday's frenetic Bulls-Heat game, the latest edition of what passes for an NBA rivalry between title contenders.

For now these games are for fun; come springtime in the playoffs they'll be for fortune.

Hardly anybody could be quite certain what they witnessed this time around.

After the final buzzer, cameras caught LeBron James standing with hands on his hips and a quizzical expression on his face.

Teammate Dwyane Wade stood to James' left, shaking his head and wondering how what just happened just happened to happen.

And those guys won the dang game.

What happened was the Heat beat the Bulls 97-93 at Miami in a game allegedly between the NBA East's two best teams.

The atmosphere felt like more than just another scrimmage, more than one of 66 during a compressed season that is strange enough to begin with.

If messages were being sent on this day, the delivery truck was hijacked somewhere between Biscayne Bay and Lake Michigan.

All you need to know about how odd the developments were is Bulls' superstar Derrick Rose missed 2 free throws with 22.7 seconds left and a potential tying floater in the lane with three seconds left.

In between, Heat megastar James missed 2 free throws.

But star wars this was anyway, right up to that final minute with Rose finishing with 34 points and James with 35.

In a way, the winners could feel like they lost and the losers could feel like they won.

The Bulls didn't feel that way, of course. They take every defeat personally, almost too personally, almost like they need grief counseling.

But this loss was nothing to be concerned about, considering the Bulls played in a hostile environment, and without Luol Deng and C.J. Watson.

Yet the Bulls competed with the Heat possession for possession, dribble for dribble, shot for shot, miss for miss, make for make, turnover for turnover, coaching move for coaching move.

Remember, Miami is the acknowledged favorite to win this season's NBA title with James, Wade and Chris Bosh after they supposedly underachieved by merely winning last season's Eastern Conference title.

The Bulls never led in the game but kept flailing away at the Heat, which is what head coach Tom Thibodeau demands they do on any night against any opponent as if they're still trying to prove something, which they do have to keep trying to do.

The teams play again in Chicago on March 14 and then twice in eight days on April 12 in Chicago and on April 19 in Miami, giving the Bulls at least six weeks now to figure out how to beat the team that eliminated them a step away from last year's NBA Finals.

One suggestion would be to improve at the starting power forward position, where Bosh had 24 points and 12 rebounds to Carlos Boozer's 10 points and 9 rebounds.

Maybe Deng's return from a wrist injury will be enough to neutralize James. Maybe the strategy should be to reverse last season, when the Bulls swept the Heat during the regular season before losing to it in the playoffs.

Most of the games were played like Sunday's, in doubt all the way but with Miami prevailing when it counted during the postseason.

Whoever wins, the competition is entertaining if not always easy to explain.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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