They spoiled the return of Chicago star Derrick Rose, whose comeback after missing all of last season recovering from a torn knee ligament has the Bulls tipped as contenders to topple two-time defending champions Miami in the Eastern Conference.
Rose’s appearance sparked widespread interest. Shortly before tipoff, President Barack Obama’s Twitter feed featured the message “Welcome back @DRose. #BullsNation.” Chicago is Obama’s hometown.
But the night belonged to the Heat. Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player James finished with a relatively quiet 17 points. But seven Miami players scored in double figures and the Heat bench out-scored Chicago’s reserves 42-26.
Leading 17-15 after the first quarter, the Heat blew the game open in the second when they outscored Chicago 37-18 to take a 54-33 halftime lead.
James added eight assists and six rebounds, Chris Bosh scored 16 and Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers chipped in 13 points apiece. Shane Battier came off the bench to score 14, making four of four attempts from three-point range.
Despite a third quarter characterised by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as “sloppy,” Miami led by 20 going into the final period. Chicago managed to get the deficit under double digits when two free throws by Jimmy Butler cut the gap to eight points with 1:41 remaining.
A three-pointer by Battier quickly stretched the Heat’s advantage and James, Bosh and Wade all connected on jump shots down the stretch to keep the Bulls at bay.