Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports

Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports

On a night many expected the Miami Heat to coast to victory, it was anything but for the defending champions. Facing off against a depleted Chicago Bulls team should have been easy work, but the Bulls’ hustle, energy and defense spread throughout those able to contribute.

Without stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng were the driving forces behind Chicago’s surprise victory. The former dropped 21 points and 17 rebounds, and had a key and-1 dunk late in the fourth quarter. Deng, who has been nothing short of consistent for the Bulls this season, scored 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, including two devastating three-pointers that kept Chicago afloat.

The Heat, who appeared somewhat fatigued, just couldn’t get it done late. They allowed the Bulls to shoot 50 percent in the final quarter of play, but overall played less-than-stellar defense. While they shot a slightly better percentage of 48.1 from the field, Miami let Chicago convert on 47.1 percent; a far cry from the usual 44 percent they allow.

LeBron James had a stellar evening, scoring 32 points and snatching seven rebounds. He also contributed four assists, and made an impact defensively with two steals and four blocks. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh scored 18 and 21 points respectively, with the Big Three scoring all but two points in the fourth quarter.

While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasoning surrounding the Heat’s first loss since February 1, a lack of defensive effort is the primary source of blame.

Erik Spoelstra, the head coach of the Miami Heat, made a confusing adjustment and sent James to lockdown Kirk Hinrich. Wade was then forced to guard Deng, and just couldn’t keep up off-the-ball. The Chicago small forward hit the aforementioned threes within a minute of each other, on the exact same play.

Wade is notoriously lax on defense when his offense isn’t running as he’d like, and didn’t give 100 percent in fighting through the screens.

Miami was outrebounded 43-31 by the physical Bulls, and gave up 12 on the offensive glass. Bosh, who has been harshly criticized for his lack of effort on the boards, managed just four rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Mario Chalmers, the Heat’s 6’2″ point guard, snatched three in 29 minutes, almost matching his 6’11″ center’s production in six less minutes of playing time.

Whether it was mental or physical fatigue, Miami did not look as sharp as they have in this eight-week stretch of victories. It is both unfortunate and disappointing to see their streak end, as many remained hopeful they would eclipse the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers total of 33 straight wins.

The Heat’s 27 in a row settles for second in most consecutive victories—both in the NBA and American professional sports. While it doesn’t rank at the top of the ladder, it remains an accomplishment in itself. Miami showed just how dominant they can be, with multiple come-from-behind victories and stretches of smothering defense.

The entire Eastern Conference should be wary once the playoffs begin, as this Heat team looks irrevocably intimidating.