That is, until the Heat put together perhaps their most emphatic 14 minutes of the season.
Shaquille O'Neal had 24 points, nine rebounds and a season-high eight assists, Eddie Jones added 23 points and Miami outscored Chicago 38-9 over a decisive second-half spurt to beat the Bulls 103-70 on Wednesday night, the first Heat win in four meetings between the clubs this season.
"They've been a little bit more serious in playing us than we were in playing them," O'Neal said. "So we knew that we owed this team. They hate us for some reason, which is fine. They use as one of their stepping stones, so we had to let them know that we're still here."
Jones (14) and Antoine Walker (11) both outscored the Bulls' roster during that clinching stretch. Chicago was 0-for-10 with five turnovers in the final 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter and 3-for-20 over the full run, with Miami's defensive effort punctuated by Alonzo Mourning erasing Tyrus Thomas' dunk try.
The Heat got a measure of revenge for the 108-66 loss Chicago put on them in Miami on opening night, spoiling Miami's championship-banner-and-ring ceremony.
"That was a message, loud and clear," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said.
Walker had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Udonis Haslem added 12 points for the Heat -- who've won 10 straight at home and moved within three games of Washington in the Southeast Division.
Ben Gordon, who was coming off a 48-point effort against Milwaukee, had 14 points on 6-for-18 shooting for Chicago. Chris Duhon added 12 and Kirk Hinrich had 11 for the Bulls, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.
"We just weren't playing very smart out there," Hinrich said. "I don't know how else to explain it."
Miami improved to 5-2 since Dwyane Wade dislocated his left shoulder. Wade, the reigning NBA finals MVP, watched the game from the bench with his teammates for the first time since he was injured last month.
Jones, who scored 14 in the fourth, established a season high in scoring for the second straight game, and also set season-bests in 3-pointers (six), assists (six) and field goals (eight).
Playing without Jason Kapono, the NBA's leading 3-point shooter who sprained his ankle Monday and will miss at least 10 days, the Heat hit 10 of 23 from behind the arc, and held Chicago to 35 percent shooting.
James Posey started in Kapono's place and finished with seven points and six rebounds, plus took six charges.
"They just dominated us in three games. They, like, toyed with us," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "Somewhere, regardless of what the situations were with injuries or whatever, you've got to confront and compete with a team like them who you're vying with for position in the conference. Our guys took that to heart."
The Heat started with seven unanswered points, their best game-opening run of the season, and led 28-9 after Jason Williams' layup with 2:02 left in the first quarter. The biggest reason for that early lead was O'Neal, who was simply dominant from the tip, with eight points and five assists in the first 9 minutes.
"They came out," Skiles said, "and their effort just hit us in the face."
The Bulls got within 40-32 when Hinrich scored twice in a 71-second span midway through the second quarter. Miami, fueled by three more baskets from O'Neal, went on a 10-3 run over the next 2 1/2 minutes and settled for a 52-43 lead at the break.
Chicago got within 56-53 on Hinrich's 3-pointer with 5:30 left in the third, but it was all Miami from there.
"If we continue to play defense the way we've been playing ... who knows what can happen," Jones said.
The Heat went over the 12 million mark in all-time home attendance. ... Riley denied accusing Hinrich of trying to hurt Wade when the teams met earlier in Chicago. Wade sprained his wrist when Hinrich grabbed him during the first quarter of a December meeting. "Just like the Chicago Bulls whine about Dwyane always getting too many free throws, a great defender like Kirk Hinrich gets away with everything," Riley said.