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‘Small ball’ leads to big win as Heat scorch Bulls 86-67

Bulls forward Taj Gibschallanges shot by Heguard Dwyane Wade second quarter Chicago Bulls-Miami Hegame Thursday February 21 2013 United Center

Bulls forward Taj Gibson challanges a shot by Heat guard Dwyane Wade the second quarter of the Chicago Bulls-Miami Heat game Thursday February 21, 2013 at the United Center . | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 21, 2013 9:48PM

Chalk one up for “small ball.’’

After the Bulls beat the Heat down in Miami back on Jan. 4, All-Star center Joakim Noah insisted that the “small ball’’ that the defending NBA Champions play wasn’t going to work against his bigger, more physical Bulls.

Noah got his reply on Thursday.

The Heat dismantled the Bulls (31-23) in the United Center, beating them 86-67, as well as handing their Eastern Conference rivals their third loss in their last four games, and their sixth loss in their last nine.

“You can call it ‘small ball’ or whatever you want, but it’s what we do,’’ Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra replied, when asked about what Noah said. “We’ve proven that it works against anyone and anywhere.’’

And while the Bulls did show an ability to outrebound the Heat, that was about the only thing they did well against them, especially when it came to protecting the basketball.

With Kirk Hinrich missing his eighth game in the last nine played because of a right elbow injury, the Bulls had a season-high 27 turnovers, all but giftwrapping 24 points to Miami (38-14) in doing so.

It was the very concern Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had going into the game.

“When you turn the ball over against them they convert so quickly, their athleticism, they’re going to make you pay,’’ Thibodeau explained. “You have to protect the ball, they swarm the ball. If you hold onto the ball, you dance, they’re too good defensively for that.’’

Thanks to LeBron James, the Heat were also too good offensively. The MVP shot 11-for-15 for 26 points, as well as pulling down 12 rebounds and handing out seven assists.

He even seemed to send Noah a statement late in the game, going one-on-one with the big man atop the key, before burying a long jumper in Noah’s face. As James ran down the court, he mockingly slammed his hands down like he was shutting a case. Or as far as Thursday was concerned, a coffin.

The Bulls were led by 14 from Nate Robinson, and may have learned another valuable lesson from Miami.

“Talk does nothing,’’ Thibodeau added, when asked about Noah’s comments. “I think it’s made for you guys and he reels you guys in. Hey look, that team won a championship. They’re playing better than anyone in the league right now, so it’s obviously [small ball is] working for them. You have to give credit where credit is due.’’

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