- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2011

CHICAGO - The Chicago Bulls saw the stars aligning for the Heat last summer, the “Big Three” free agents uniting in Miami on a quest for a championship.

Joakim Noah wasn’t conceding anything. Nor was Derrick Rose.

Chicago swept Miami in the regular season, and if the Bulls keep this up, they’ll knock the Heat out of the playoffs, too.

Rose scored 28 points, Luol Deng ably contained LeBron James and the Bulls struck first in the Eastern Conference finals, pulling away to beat the Heat 103-82 in Game 1 on Sunday night.

“We felt like we could compete against anybody,” said Noah. “This is just a really exciting situation right now. The position that we’re in is unbelievable. … Nobody believed that we could be in this position right now.”

That belief, along with a major overhaul, led the Bulls to the league’s best record and rekindled an attitude not seen in the Windy City since the Michael Jordan era when championships were an annual event.

Missing out on the Big Three? Seeing James and Bosh join Wade in Miami?

“We’re not worried about all the offseason stuff,” Rose said. “We’re not worried about it. We’re just trying to go out there and play hard, play with an edge, play with a lot of intensity.”

They certainly did Sunday, particularly during the second half. The Bulls went on a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter, then pulled away in the fourth.

As the final minutes ticked away, fans chanted “Over-rated!” and “Beat the Heat!”

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Chicago.

Rose settled down after committing three of his four turnovers in the opening minutes and showed why he is the MVP. He hit three 3-pointers and the Bulls converted 10 of 21 in all.

Deng had 21 points. He hit four 3s, had four steals and seven rebounds, and simply put the clamps on The King, holding James to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

“Definitely to guard a guy like that the whole defense has to stay focused,” Deng said. “There were times we switched and times we forced him into the double. Our bigs were great at forcing him into the front.”

Carlos Boozer added 14 points and nine rebounds. Noah had 14 rebounds to help the Bulls win the battle of the boards 45-33, including 19 on the offensive end for 31 second-chance points.

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