By Mike McGraw
Bulls fans know better than to get excited about any victory over the Miami Heat that's not a playoff clincher.
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Beating the Heat 106-102 on Wednesday, though, while Derrick Rose sat out with a groin strain was definitely surprising. And it might have contained some positive signs for a potential conference finals rematch.
The basic drawback to Miami's confluence of superstars is the ability to use just one ball at a time. On Wednesday, LeBron James was brilliant in the first three quarters; Dwyane Wade barely missed in the fourth. But it was a one-man-at-a-time attack.
James took 3 shots and scored 2 points in the fourth quarter. It's not like the Bulls did anything special defensively. Wade just took over, hitting 8 straight shots and scoring 19 of 21 Miami points during a long stretch.
The Heat's supporting cast, meanwhile, didn't do much all game long. Chris Bosh had another tough night, hitting 3 of 15 shots for 12 points with just 3 rebounds.
Center Joel Anthony has been regarded as a strong defender, but he showed few signs of that trait Wednesday. Anthony also grabbed just 4 rebounds in 26 minutes.
Overall, the Bulls won the rebounds 50-34 and outscored Miami in second-chance points 21-7.
"This game was won in the trenches," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They just annihilated us on the glass. That's two straight nights that happened."
Spoelstra was referring to Tuesday's overtime loss at Orlando, when Miami was outrebounded by 10.
"We're undersized, but we just have to figure it out," James said. "We need to put more bodies on guys, a collective effort."
Many of Miami's flaws have been season-long trends: lack of rebounding; poor shooting by Shane Battier (.386 field-goal percentage) and Udonis Haslem (. 409); a string of injuries to Mike Miller, who didn't play Wednesday.
At any level of basketball, it's difficult for a player to contribute when he rarely touches the ball.
That's the formula Miami took on last season, and it got strong performances from Bosh, Haslem, Miller and Anthony against the Bulls in the conference finals.
This year the chemistry and contributions aren't quite the same.
Whether this still will hold true in the postseason is anyone's guess, but the Heat is riding a four-game road losing streak heading into Friday's visit to Philadelphia.
Miami will no doubt be keeping an eye on New Orleans center Chris Kaman for a possible buyout and late-season addition.
On the other side, the Bulls haven't been very healthy this season, but they are clearly a tight-knit group with plenty of mental toughness.
"We just have guys who work hard, come into practice every day and when their number's called, step up," said guard John Lucas, who scored 24 points Wednesday.
"And everybody gets along. We're like a family. We're like a brotherhood. When one brother goes down, we've got their back."
While the Bull never will match Miami's lineup of superstars, most every game against the Heat the past two seasons has been close. Those games can turn on an open 3-pointer, an offensive rebound, or a key foul call.
So, yes, Wednesday's win was a positive sign in the quest to overtake the Heat, but it still won't mean much when the playoffs begin.