MIAMI — Joakim Noah didn't break out his "Hollywood as hell" depiction of the Heat. Derrick Rose didn't play.
But make no mistake: The rivalry remains. And it remains very edgy. Noah's horse-collar flagrant foul on LeBron James early in the fourth quarter, which the Bulls vehemently disputed, underscored that.
The rivalry might not lead to a reprise of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, but it did provide intrigue — and mutual respect — Friday night at American Airlines Arena.
And though the Bulls like to follow coach Tom Thibodeau's cue and claim every game's the same, a 96-89 victory without Rose lingers a bit longer than usual. The Bulls stayed overnight with a Saturday morning charter flight back to Chicago scheduled.
Hope you enjoyed South Beach, fellas.
"It always feels good to beat the Heat," Noah said. "And we get a night out in the city to boot."
In his second straight huge game, Carlos Boozer finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds, adding dives for several loose balls and stripping Chris Bosh on a huge possession late that he followed with a layup.
Noah returned from missing one game with flu symptoms to post 13 points and 12 rebounds as the Bulls, outrebounded in five straight and eight of 10 games, enjoyed a whopping 48-28 advantage.
"We just pounded the glass," Noah said. "I don't know if that small ball is going to work against us."
Luol Deng sacrificed his offensive game to make James work for his 30 points. And Nate Robinson put his fingerprints all over the fourth quarter, finishing with 13 points.
"The fact they're fifth in the Eastern Conference right now with their MVP out shows you the character of the team," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They've had a lot of changes. Their bench looks totally different. But they still find a way, even after tough losses. They're mentally and physically tough enough to win in any building."