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Thursday, January 3, 2013
Bulls face big test against Heat

By Nick Friedell



ORLANDO, Fla. -- Already without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls will get a chance to measure up against the best team in the NBA Friday possibly without Joakim Noah.

The Bulls center missed Wednesday's victory over the Orlando Magic with flu-like symptoms and is uncertain for Friday's game against the Miami Heat, who are dealing with their own injury issues. LeBron James missed practice on Thursday to receive treatment for his bruised right knee, but he expects to play on Friday.

As ESPN Stats and Information points out, Friday's matchup pits the two winningest teams in the Eastern Conference over the past three seasons against each other. The Bulls are 129-49 over the last three years in regular season play while the Heat are 126-52.

"They're the champs, man," Carlos Boozer said Wednesday. "Any time you get a chance to play the champs ... we get excited for every game, but they are the champs so we look forward to matchups like that. You get a chance to test how good your team is against the champs, so until somebody beats them that's what they are and we look forward to playing them."

After dropping two consecutive games to the lowly Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons, the Heat have won two straight overtime games, including Wednesday's 119-109 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. James led the Heat with 32 points and was an assist shy of a triple-double, continuing a remarkable streak. He has scored 20-plus points in 30 straight games to start the season, the most George Gervin did it in 45 straight to start the 1981-82 season.

The Heat might have the most wins in the East (22), but they have the fewest rebounds in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Bulls enter Friday's game having been out-rebounded in five straight games.

"We just need to focus on trying to play better," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We haven't been defending and rebounding -- obviously those are keys every night. We want to focus on that and we're going to look at it and see what we can do ... They're a great team there's no denying that. They've got depth and some of the best players in the world."

The Bulls proved last season that they could beat the Heat without Rose, who is making his first road trip with the team since tearing his ACL in April. With Rose injured, the Bulls beat the Heat 106-102 on March 14 behind 24 points from John Lucas III, and later topped Miami in overtime with Rose playing limited minutes as he worked his way back into the lineup.

"We got to make sure we're doing our jobs," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We can't take shortcuts, and we can't make things up. Your offense is also a big part of your defensive transition, so if you're not taking the right shots and you're quick shooting the ball and you're taking off-balance shots and you're going to the offensive boards you're putting your team in a bad way so those are the things we got to clean up."