Dwyane Wade (left) and LeBron James played nice with Tom Thibodeau over the weekend. | Lynne sladky~AP
Updated: March 28, 2012 8:12AM
ORLANDO, Fla. — Dwyane Wade was the first one to “put the weapons down.’’
The Heat All-Star guard walked over to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau just minutes before a team practice Saturday, cracked a joke, then shook his hand.
Less than a minute later, Chris Bosh walked over and finally Le-Bron James, all circling Thibodeau and exchanging a few laughs.
If there was some lingering animosity between the Bulls and Heat, it sure as heck wasn’t going to be on display this weekend with Thibodeau coaching the East All-Stars.
Oh, but wait.
“We can all come together and put the weapons down for a weekend,’’ Bosh said when asked about the collision course the Heat and Bulls appear headed for. “After [All-Star Weekend], it will go back to being just like it was — we won’t like each other.’’
And that’s a good thing. Exactly what the NBA needs.
How it got to this point isn’t rocket science. Forget that the Bulls and Heat are really the only two bullies on the Eastern Conference block this season. This is about bad feelings from last year carrying over and only being fed along the way.
The Bulls finished 2010-11 with the best regular-season record, owned the Heat in their head-to-heads and earned homecourt advantage throughout only to lose to Miami in five games in the Eastern Conference finals.
It was after that Game 5 loss that Bulls big man Joakim Noah called Miami “a hell of a team,’’ but he also said it was “Hollywood as hell.’’
Frustration? Yes. And warranted.
If there was a season to get the new “Big Three,’’ it was the debut campaign. Miami had unexpected growing pains and some obvious flaws: point guard and depth. It was there for the taking, and the Bulls couldn’t take it.
Big Three, Season 2? Good luck with that. The Heat has witnessed the maturation of center Joel Anthony and point guard Mario Chalmers, has a healthy Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller and oh, yeah, added Shane Battier and rookie Norris Cole.
Then there are the facelifts James and Bosh have undergone.
Maybe it was the humbling in the Finals loss to the Mavericks, or maybe it was understanding that talking about a dynasty and earning a dynasty are different things, but something clicked. Bosh is playing with a swagger that was lacking most of last season, and James made a commitment in the offseason to add a post-up game.
Can you say MVP? Give it to James now because the level he’s playing at on both sides of the court is staggering.
“You have to take mini-steps, and our first goal was to get the best record in the league,’’ Bosh said. “We halfway got that done. We want to have that homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, and the stress level will be high to get that, but it’s a good challenge for us.’’
But Bosh did admit that while the Heat has its foot on the pedal, it’s taking frequent glances in the rearview mirror. Philadelphia, Indiana and Orlando are lurking, but, Bosh said, there’s really only one threat.
“There are tons of teams that we think about, but Chicago, of course, is the main one,’’ Bosh said. “They are right there with us. We know they are improving, and they are trying to win a title just like we are. We have to keep that in mind. But we feel like if we play our best basketball, that’s all that matters.’’
The feeling is mutual.
“At this time right now, they are playing better than they were last year,’’ Bulls forward Luol Deng said of the Heat. “We don’t have the time to worry about teams individually. When the time comes for another team, we’ll focus our attention on them.’’
The inevitable is coming, Luol. Might as well start focusing now.
And the winner in this impending showdown? The fans.
The NBA has been without a good old-fashioned feud for a while. Reggie Miller’s Pacers against the Knicks and Michael Jordan’s Bulls against the Bad Boys happened a long time ago.
AAU basketball and summer leagues have made the NBA too friendly.
It’s time for the Bulls and Heat to turn back the clock.
For a weekend, it was jokes and fun. Starting Tuesday, weapons up.