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Miami Heat guard Ray Allen goes in a drive to the basket against Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah in the third quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (Hector Gabino/Miami Herald/MCT)

With LeBron out and Oden starting, Heat stifles Bulls

MIAMI -- After 20 days away from AmericanAirlines Arena, the Miami Heat did not look quite the same upon their return.

LeBron James watched from the bench in a sports coat, while Greg Oden was in the starting lineup.

About the only thing that remained the same was the homecourt success, with the Heat surviving a typically ugly matchup with the Chicago Bulls for a 93-79 victory Sunday.

Holding the Bulls scoreless for the first half of the second period and then limiting them to 12 points in the third quarter, the Heat made the lack of James' offense moot, as they improved to 21-4 at home at the start of this four-game homestand. The 79 points were the fewest scored against the Heat this season.

"It was a good Eastern Conference win for our guys coming off the West Coast," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And that's what it was, it was a welcome back to Eastern Conference basketball."

With center Chris Bosh scoring 28 points and guard Dwyane Wade adding 23, the Heat had more than enough against a Bulls team that lost Derrick Rose to an early-season injury, Luol Deng to a midseason trade and was without guard Jimmy Butler for this game due to a rib injury. Bosh added 10 rebounds, and Wade 10 rebounds and seven assists. Wade's seven offensive rebounds were a career high. The Heat also had a season-low eight turnovers.

Wade said he knew he had to step up on the boards.

"When you're missing LeBron," he said, "you try to do other things."

It added up to Spoelstra's 300th coaching victory and lifted the Heat to 7-1 in James' absence in his four seasons with the team. This was James' second absence of the season. He also sat out a 108-107 road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 28.

"One serious hit to the face would've been very tough," Spoelstra said of holding out James. "It would've been a big setback."

Spoelstra became the sixth-fastest to 300 regular-season coaching victories, with his current Heat boss Pat Riley the fastest.

"It's amazing how fast those six years have gone," Spoelstra said.

To the Bulls, it seemed like the game would never end, called for seven 24-second violations along the way.

"When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be high the whole time. To me, that's what's disappointing," center Joakim Noah said after closing with 20 points, 15 rebound and four blocked shots. "I mean those guys ended our seasons a lot. You gotta hate playing these guys. Every time we play them, our intensity has to be high. We did it in spurts. It wasn't good the whole time. And that's what's disappointing."

The victory lifted the Heat to 8-1 in February, with their lone loss the road shocker against the Utah Jazz.

With James out due to the broken nose he sustained in Thursday's road victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and with the Bulls entering with a considerable size advantage, Spoelstra gave Oden his first start since the hulking center was signed as a free agent in the offseason. It was Oden's first start since Dec. 5, 2009 with the Trail Blazers.

Oden played only at the start of each half, closing with five points on 2-of-4 shooting and five rebounds in 13 minutes.

"One of their main strengths is size and rebounding and points in the paint. We figured he would be best," Spoelstra said. "He's an active player for someone that big."

Oden was modest in his appraisal.

"I just hope I made somewhat of an impact," he said. "We won the game, so I would like to say I did."

The lack of roster continuity showed on both ends, with each team opening the second quarter 0 for 7, the Heat scoreless for the first four minutes of the period as Wade took a breather. But once Wade re-entered, the Heat scored 20 points the balance of the period.

"There's nothing we can do to replace the best player in the world," Wade said.

Not that James still didn't have a presence.

"He didn't shut up," Wade said of the bench byplay. "He had a lot of good stuff for us."

The teams went into the intermission tied 40-40, with the Bulls compensating for their shooting and turnover woes with a 32-19 first-half rebounding edge. The 32 rebounds were the most against the Heat in any half this season.

But that's when the Heat amped up their defense, the 12 points by Chicago the few in the third period the fewest in a quarter against the Heat this season.

"We would like to think our activity was part of that," forward Shane Battier said.

The Heat pushed their lead to 19 early in the fourth quarter, before Chicago rallied to close within 75-64 with seven minutes to play, leading to a Spoelstra timeout. But that's when Bosh and Wade stepped up to put it away.

Bosh closed 4 of 9 on 3-pointers.

"Each year we've become a lot more comfortable with him playing on the perimeter," Spoelstra said.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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