Originally Published: March 9, 2014

While Noah Rejoices, LeBron Bemoans Slide

By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- What a game between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls means was symbolized by the large wet spot covered by a pile of ice in the center of the Heat's locker-room floor after the Bulls handed them a 95-88 overtime loss Sunday.

A water cooler, a rather full one by the looks of the fallout, had been overturned presumably in frustration after the Heat lost their third consecutive game on what became a miserable road trip.

Then there's this summation from the Bulls' floor by emotional leader Joakim Noah: "We played with a lot of hate … a lot of hate."

LeBron James
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLeBron James was better off dishing in the 95-88 loss to the Bulls. He missed 15 shots and failed to get to the line for the first time since 2009.

It doesn't take much for the excitable Noah to get going, and against the Heat, that is usually magnified. He was his active, pesky and hard-clapping self all afternoon. For spice, he added some grade-A trash talk, getting to within inches of Chris Bosh's ears in the waning moments, knowing the game was in hand. Noah's 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks weren't so bad, either.

"I love it, beating Miami," Noah said. "I don't care if it's the regular season, it's always special."

Meanwhile, LeBron James was in full lament. Both about his last shot of regulation and his week that started so promisingly and ended with disappointment.

James had 20 seconds to break a tie game at the end of the fourth quarter and save the Heat from losing a game in which they had a 12-point lead with 10 minutes to play.

Isolated against Bulls ace defender Jimmy Butler, James drove and got around the corner on his way to the hoop. He cleared Noah from the rim area with a fake pass that Noah bought. But just when it looked like James was about to score another game-winner, Butler reached over and cleanly stripped the ball from his hands to force an overtime that the Bulls ended up dominating.

"I dropped the ball. That's like a double entendre, huh?" James said. "I actually dropped the ball and I dropped the ball on my team. I had the lane, I had the layup. That's a great play by Jimmy. I messed up on my scouting reporting, I knew if I brought the ball [to the middle of his body] he would strip it, too. I brought it over a little too far and he got his hand on it."

Actually, James' didn't bring the ball too close, Butler just reached perfectly and dislodged it without fouling. Butler, in fact, didn't foul James all day. For the first time since Dec. 2, 2009, James didn't have a free throw. While he naturally complained about a couple non-calls, generally it was good Bulls help defense and a missing edge from James' offensive game.

After his 61-point explosion last Monday in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats when he had probably the best pure shooting game of his life, it was as if James has been compelled to repay some sort of basketball karma with a few duds. He has now had perhaps his most pedestrian three consecutive games of the season as his jumper that had been dead-eye over the past month grew sudden rust. And there was no plastic mask or sleeved jersey to blame it on.

Two of James' three worst shooting nights of the season came Thursday in San Antonio and Sunday in Chicago, where he finished just 8-of-23 shooting and 17 points. Since he made his first eight 3-pointers in that masterpiece against the Bobcats he has missed 11 in a row.

In the first five games after the All-Star break, James went on a tear despite breaking his nose along the way as he shot 69 percent and averaged 37.4 points. The Heat, not surprisingly, won all those games. Over the past three losses James is shooting only 39 percent and putting up just 19.3 points. On shots outside the paint, he's only 3-of-27 over that stretch.

"It's funny how fast you can get out of rhythm after I was in a good rhythm for a long time," said James, who still sniffed a triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists. "But I'm not worried about it."

There are other things bothering Miami, such as a rash of turnovers or giving up offensive rebounds. The Bulls' efficiency on their second-chance shots Sunday was remarkable, scoring 27 points on 15 attempts. Primarily, though, James turning cold has essentially chilled the two-time champs as well.

Dwyane Wade is averaging fewer than 20 points for the first time since his rookie season of 2003-04. But he has put up 23 or more points six times in the past seven games and had 25 points in his hometown on Sunday. But it was not enough to rescue the Heat without James giving close to his usual effort.

Bosh had a decent day with 15 points but there have been times over the past several years when Noah has seemed to knock Bosh out of his comfort zone with his activity and his barking. This was one of those types of days.

That's not to say this is always an issue. Bosh had 28 points and 10 rebounds two weeks ago in Miami against the Bulls, but Noah looked to get to him at times in this game. Bosh infamously had a 1-of-18 shooting game in Chicago two seasons ago and the Heat have lost seven of their past eight regular-season games at the United Center.

The teams split this season series, 2-2, but the Bulls are 9-6 against Miami since the start of the 2010-11 regular season, the most losses the Heat have taken to any team in that span.

Of course, the Heat are 8-2 against the Bulls in the playoffs over the past three years, including a 4-1 victory in the conference semifinals last season.

"They play differently against us," James said. "I just watched them against Memphis [in a loss on Friday night], the full game. They didn't play like this. They play differently against us and rightly so. It's always good competition."

After not having a three-game losing streak in more than two years, the Heat now have two since mid-January. The fact they went 16-3 between them puts it into perspective that they're still on a strong pace.

But they'll be challenged again Monday when they play a back-to-back against the Washington Wizards at home. After the overtime game in which he played just less than 40 minutes, they may not have Wade for the game. Wade has sat out numerous back-to-backs this season and said Sunday "we'll see" about his Monday prospects.

"None of us feel good about this game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "To do what we want to do [win another title], nobody said it's easy, particularly coming off last year."

Dimes past: Feb. 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | March 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

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