CHICAGO (AP) — Just in case the message isn't getting through, the Miami Heat are more than happy to repeat it. The championship still is in their hands and good luck trying to pry it away.
The Heat won their season-high ninth straight Thursday night with an 86-67 win over the Chicago Bulls behind LeBron James' 26 points, and supplied more evidence that they're ready to put away the rest of the Eastern Conference.
More important, they're looking like a team that's poised to defend their championship.
"We all had a vision of how this team was going to really operate together, but there is no limit," Chris Bosh said. "We can continue to get better. We can continue to play better together. Our defense can continue to improve. If we want to win in the postseason, it's going to have to."
They sure are looking good at the moment. They blew out Oklahoma City on the road before the All-Star break and followed it up with a win at Atlanta on Wednesday before taking out the Bulls.
James also had 12 rebounds and seven assists in another big performance after ending his franchise-record seven-game streak of scoring at least 30 the previous night.
Dwyane Wade added 17 points, and the Heat took control in the first half, sending the Bulls to their fifth loss in seven games on a night when the Derrick Rose recovery story took another twist.
After saying last week that he wouldn't rush back from his knee injury to play this season if he wasn't ready, Chicago's sidelined superstar had to go into damage control mode after his older brother Reggie blasted the organization in an ESPNChicago.com article for not making a move before Thursday's trade deadline.
Things didn't get much better for the Bulls once the game started. They set a season low for points while committing a season-high 27 turnovers, the most for the Bulls since they had 29 against Washington on Dec. 4, 2004.
"We're putting together some good basketball right now," James said. "We're defending. We're creating turnovers. We're winning the turnover game offensively. We're the best shooting team in the league ... so if we don't turn the ball over, we get good shots at the rim, we could also have a good chance to win."
Nate Robinson scored 14 points for Chicago but also committed five fouls with Kirk Hinrich sitting out because of ongoing trouble with his right elbow. That explains some of the Bulls' problems hanging onto the ball, although general sloppiness and Miami's athleticism certainly played a role.
Carlos Boozer had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Joakim Noah added 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but he also had four turnovers.