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Bulls in precarious position after tough loss to Heat in Game 3


Updated: August 21, 2011 12:21AM

MIAMI — When the gas flames blasted straight up during the introductions on ‘‘White Heat’’ night Sunday, you could feel the burn all the way in the upper deck.

The Heat fans were clad in white, they were loud and festive, and some guy in a banana suit danced like a maniac in front of the conga band in the stands.

Then the Bulls got lit up like straw men.

Perhaps the most in-your-face scorching came when LeBron James took the ball on a breakaway with just more than five minutes left, dribbled right and left and turned hapless defender Kyle Korver into a twisted cinder of a human being.

James made the shot and the ensuing free throw, and the Heat had an 87-74 lead that basically spelled the end.

After the shot, which the slender Korver desperately tried to defend but couldn’t because of James’ strength, LeBron roared to the crowd in a primal scream of dominance.

The Bulls, who saw this game as the mother of all comeback necessities, got whipped 96-85. And it was a show of dominance by the Heat, which now leads the Eastern Conference finals 2-1, that is frightening in its implications.

Quite simply, the Heat has figured out how to beat the Bulls.

This is a hard-working Bulls team, remember, that hadn’t lost back-to-back games since early February. But when the home crowd is on fire and the home team features a 6-8 point guard/power forward who has been lit like a butane torch, old stats are irrelevant. Even stupid.

The Heat got 73 points, 20 rebounds, 15 assists, three blocked shots and only three turnovers from its ‘‘Big Three’’ of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. And that really can’t be a shock to anybody.

Bosh, a smooth 6-11 forward, ate like a lion at a kitty dish. His 13-for-18 shooting from the field and 8-for-10 effort from the free-throw line got him 34 points. It’s possible the Bulls didn’t care that much about his line, but that would be only if they had held James and Wade in check.

They didn’t.

Let’s bring up James, who seemed to do a Clark Kent through the Heat’s Game 1 wipeout in Chicago, then went into a phone booth and changed into his Superman costume for Games 2 and 3.

James finished with 22 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, two steals and nary a turnover in 44 minutes. His passion was fierce, and his skill was over-the-top.

When a man that size can run around like a pint-sized dribbler, make three-pointers, pass the ball and go to the rack like Godzilla, what can a foe do?

For one thing, it better not do what Joakim Noah did, which was to get so frustrated with his impotent play and early foul trouble that he turned to a white-shirt-clad fan and called him the old Kobe Bryant standby: a ‘‘[bleep]ing faggot.’’

The homosexual slur earned Bryant a $100,000 fine from the league, and he said it to a referee. Commissioner David Stern is all about the fans, so Noah might get a fine that’s really big.

‘‘A fan said something, and I said something back,’’ Noah said quietly and with embarrassment after the game. ‘‘I apologize. .   .   . I got caught up. I don’t mean to disrespect to anybody.’’

Of course not.

But Noah’s line said it all about the Bulls’ failure and the Heat’s ability to shut them down. Noah scored one point and grabbed five rebounds in more than 29 minutes. Interestingly, he had six assists, one more than Derrick Rose. And there is a reason for that.

Heat players are daring Noah to beat them. They literally aren’t guarding him on half the Bulls’ offensive possessions because at least two players are swarming Rose. When they do guard him, it is after he has gotten the ball somewhere near the free-throw line.

When he is 12 to 20 feet from the basket, Noah is no threat to anyone. He can’t shoot from beyond four feet and has no jumper at all.

If Rose is plastered by every free Heat defender and the other Bulls are in the corners or covered by the remaining defenders, that leaves Noah to take the ball and do something with it.

He’s not a bad passer, hence the assists. But that’s not why he’s in the game. He’s in it to rule the boards, make chip shots here and there and dunk with some frequency.

The Heat has the Bulls where it wants them. It has broken down the mess that was Game 1 and figured out how to use its defense efficiently.

If a wide-open Noah can’t shoot or drive effectively when he gets the ball from Rose, the Heat can laugh its way to the Finals.

And watch the Bulls flame out.

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