Soon the tie on the scoreboard was gone, too. Stout defence plus Chris Bosh's outside shooting and a boost from Miami's reserves helped the Heat overcome the absence of their MVP on Sunday to beat the Chicago Bulls 93-79.
"We were missing a pretty big man," Dwyane Wade said. "There's nothing we can do to replace the best player in the world, but we just had to go out there and play team basketball on both ends of the floor."
James was a late scratch after he broke his nose in Thursday's win at Oklahoma City, and his teammates picked up the slack. Former NBA No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden replaced James for his first NBA start since December 2009, and reserves Chris Andersen, Michael Beasley and Ray Allen helped the Heat pull away in the second half.
"You don't want to see guys out," said coach Erik Spoelstra, who earned his 300th career victory. "But when guys are out, I'm always curious to see how you respond as a team. We've have several of these games that could have been excuse games, but guys have stepped up."
Bosh tied a career high with four 3-pointers and had 28 points and 10 rebounds. Wade added 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, while Mario Chalmers contributed 12 points and nine assists.
Defence did the rest against the offensively challenged Bulls.
"We're starting to put it together defensively," Bosh said. "We got off to a slow start early in the season, but I think right now we're starting to get it, starting to click."
Like the Heat, the Bulls were also short-handed, with starter Jimmy Butler a late scratch because of bruised ribs. They shot 36 per cent, went 6 for 21 from 3-point range and were called for a 24-second violation at least six times, including twice in a row.
"We weren't playing with a good enough thrust," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We were slow getting into our stuff. We didn't make quick decisions, and we got stuck fighting the clock."
Joakim Noah had 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks for the Bulls, who had won five in a row.
"Those guys have ended our seasons a lot," Noah said. "You've got to hate playing those guys, and every time we play them our intensity has to be high. We did it in spurts, it wasn't good the whole time, and that's what's disappointing."
Miami, playing at home for the first time in 20 days, extended its winning streak to five games.
Wade sealed the victory by sinking a jumper with less than three minutes left, giving the Heat their first 18-point lead. Earlier two of his points came on free throws after he improvised a backward somersault when fouled hard in the lane.
Otherwise there weren't a lot of acrobatics from the typically high-flying Heat, who shot 42 per cent and had only seven fast-break points.
Contributing to the workmanlike effort was the 7-foot Oden, playing his 11th game after being sidelined by knee trouble for 3 1/2 years. He had five points and five rebounds in 13 minutes.
"Greg was great," Spoelstra said. "He's an active player for somebody that big, and he's very intelligent. He has a good grasp of what we want to do."
The stoic Oden shrugged off the milestone of returning to the starting lineup.
"I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable out there, and I think guys are starting to feel more comfortable with me," he said. "It's something we can build on. Being able to put me in that starting lineup showed some confidence in me."
James, missing a game for only the second time this season, drew a big ovation when he was shown on the video scoreboard during an early timeout. During another timeout in the fourth quarter, when the Heat had built a big cushion, he danced to music blaring over the public address system while his teammates huddled.
They scored on seven consecutive possessions during a 16-2 run at the end of the third quarter that put them ahead 65-52. The catalysts were unlikely: In quick succession, Andersen dunked on an alley-oop, Allen hit a runner and Beasley banked home a basket.
"It doesn't matter if LeBron's out," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They're a good team. That team has other players. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — those are All-Stars, too. The bench is deep. That's a championship team."
NOTES: Spoelstra earned his 300th victory in his 448th game. Only five coaches reached the milestone more quickly, including his boss, Pat Riley, who did it the fastest at 416 games. ... Wade's seven offensive rebounds were a career high. ... The Bulls fell to 24-6 when leading after one quarter. ... Miami improved to 8-1 in February.Suggest a correction