The Miami Heat did not have the services of superstar LeBron James, who sat out with a broken nose, for Sunday’s match-up against the Chicago Bulls, but they still managed to come out victorious anyway. It is only the second time James has missed a game over the course of the entire season.
Admittedly, he had a pretty good reason not to play. In the fourth quarter of the Heat’s Thursday game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, James went up for a dunk only to find his face colliding with the powerful hand of Serge Ibaka. While the basket did count, it came at a cost, as the incident left James bloody and briefly incapacitated. The contact, however, was strictly incidental, and a foul was not even called on the play.
The Heat are on something of a roll; in defeating the Bulls on Sunday, they claimed their fifth straight victory, and the fact that it came against a solid opponent while James sat out makes it still even more impressive. With the win, Miami improved to 40-14, bumping their winning percentage up to .741 in the process. Only the Indiana Pacers (.764) and Thunder (.754) can boast a better mark at this time, and there is little doubt that the Heat have their sights set on overtaking them both. The way they are playing lately, that seems like a distinct possibility.
Sitting James out on Sunday was a decision based strictly out of caution. While the four-time Most Valuable Player award winner has been especially hot of late, scoring at least 33 points in each of his last four contests, Miami saw a chance to give their star extra time off by not pushing him into action on Sunday and took it. The Heat do not play again until Tuesday, and should James rejoin the team then, he will certainly have received sufficient rest.
It takes a lot for James, one of the sport’s most durable players, to be sidelined. The only other time this season the Heat had to play without their dominant small forward took place on Dec. 28 while the team was in Portland facing the Trail Blazers. Miami proved triumphant that day as well, making them undefeated without their top player this season.
In James’ absence, the two other players that comprise Miami’s “big three” made their presence felt. Center Chris Bosh scored a team-high 28 points while also grabbing 10 rebounds, and shooting guard Dwayne Wade went off for what was nearly a triple-double, posting 23 points and 10 rebounds. He fell just three assists shy of achieving the fifth triple-double of his NBA career.
Starting in place of James for the Heat was Greg Oden, who should be intimately familiar with missing games due to injuries after sitting out the last three-plus seasons due to knee trouble. It was Oden’s first start since 2009, and while the center is certainly no LeBron James, he drew the praise of teammates with his solid defensive play on Sunday.
The Bulls, winners of five straight coming into Sunday’s game, were far from a pushover. Sitting James against a hot opponent was a gamble, albeit one that ultimately paid off when the Heat still came out victorious. James expects to be back in the lineup on Tuesday, even if he has to wear a “mask like Bane” in the process.
By Spencer Hendricks