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Bulls staggered by Heat’s left hook

Miami Heat's Chris Bosh (1) goes up for shot against Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah during second half Game 3 NBA

Miami Heat's Chris Bosh (1) goes up for a shot against Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals basketball series in Miami, Sunday, May 22, 2011. The Heat defeated the Bulls 96-85. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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Updated: August 21, 2011 12:21AM

MIAMI — Performance-enhancing drugs in the NBA?

No way, says Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who has no idea how ESPN the Magazine got the idea to quote him as saying the league has a PED problem.

‘‘It’s a non-story,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said.

The story Sunday in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals was that two well-rested heavyweight contenders — the Bulls and the Miami Heat — went back to work for only the third time in eight days.

And after two games in Chicago —there were no surprises. Just moves and reactions. Punches and counter-punches.

‘‘If anything, both of us were trying to feel each other out [in Chicago],’’ Rose said. ‘‘Seeing what we were going to do in certain things. All these games are just about will—who wants it more.’’

And now?

‘‘There’s no more jitters,’’ Rose added. ‘‘Guys know what they have to do on the court to get the job done. It’s like a fight out there. We’re both trying to do something special. We have two good teams, and we’re both trying to win.’’

The Heat was determined to defend its home court Sunday, and the LeBron James gang got it done 96-85 to take a 2-1 lead in this series.

It will be up to the Bulls, who have lost back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 5-7, to answer in Game 4 on Tuesday at American Airlines Arena.

‘‘We’re confident,’’ said center Joakim Noah, who had a rough night with just five rebounds in 29 minutes. ‘‘It’s tough to lose, but we’re lucky enough to have another game on Tuesday. We’ll be ready for that. They’re making it tough for us. We have to find a way.’’

If the Bulls are to avoid slipping into a 3-1 hole and needing smelling salts, they’re going to have come up with some better combinations.

‘‘We don’t want to be down 3-1,’’ guard Kyle Korver said. ‘‘To beat that team three in a row would be tough. So it’s a big game.’’

In Game 3, the Heat simply had more punch. Chris Bosh scored 34 points, too many of them on lapses by the Bulls, who were understandably preoccupied by the 1-2 of James and Wade.

‘‘We’re giving them a lot of attention,’’ Korver said. ‘‘But [Bosh] hit a lot of tough shots. He played a great game.’’

The James-Wade point of emphasis didn’t work out all that well, either. James had 22 points and Wade 17.

Forward Carlos Boozer (26 points, 17 rebounds) had a big game for the Bulls. But Rose (20 points on 8-for-19 shooting) and forward Luol Deng (14 points) huffed and puffed. In a knockdown-dragout with Bosh, James and Wade, the Bulls needed more from their main men.

‘‘They’re a good team,’’ Boozer said. ‘‘They’re here for a reason. We have to do a better job on their other guys. It’s tough when you put so much attention on LeBron and
D-Wade. But we have to be able to help and recover.’’

Sunday was another grinding struggle in which the points were hard-earned. The Heat won an 18-15 first quarter that was reminiscent of the muddy fourth quarter in Game 2, when they outscored the Bulls 14-10.

For all their troubles, the Bulls were only down 68-65 after three quarters. A pair of late three-pointers by Deng rescued them from a 66-57 deficit.

But they never seemed on the brink of coming up with the victory they craved, particularly because Bosh was having his way all over
the floor.

In the fourth quarter, you could see the Bulls flinching. Rose forced a drive on one end and jumped into Wade on the other end. They were a pair of uncharacteristic fouls from a desperate leader running out of

Don’t blame it on Rose. Blame it on the Heat having more ways to score.

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