MIAMI -- The earliest Miami and Chicago could meet again is Game One of the Eastern Conference finals.
Good thing. The tempers could use a little time to cool down. And after a game filled with shoves and takedowns, the race for the No. 1 seed in the East is still going strong.
LeBron James had 27 points and 11 rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored 18 points and Miami tightened up the race in the East by beating the Bulls, 83-72, on Thursday night in a scuffle-filled win that pulled the Heat within 1 1/2 games of Chicago in the conference standings.
"This is what the postseason is all about," James said. "Both teams struggling to score offensively, and defensively, two very good defensive teams. It's a possession game. That's what happens in the postseason. The game slows down. Not many fast-break points. You've got to work for every attempt, work for every shot."
Mario Chalmers scored 16 points and Udonis Haslem grabbed 10 rebounds for Miami, which held the Bulls to a season-low point total. The Bulls had been 23-0 this season when holding teams to 86 points or less.
John Lucas scored 16 points for Chicago, which was again without reigning MVP Derrick Rose because of injuries. Joakim Noah had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Luol Deng added 11 points and Carlos Boozer had 10 for the Bulls, who split four games with Miami this season and could have clinched the top spot in the East with a win on Thursday.
"We wanted it bad, but they wanted it more," Noah said. "That can't happen."
The teams combined for four individual technical fouls, two flagrant fouls and Miami reserve James Jones was ejected.
But above all else, Miami decided this one with defense. The Bulls went up 21-20 on a layup by Deng with 3:36 left in the first quarter, making them 10 of 14 from the field at that point.
Chicago (47-16) has games with Dallas, Indiana and Cleveland left, while Miami (45-17) still has matchups with Washington (twice), Houston and Boston.
Miami won despite playing without Chris Bosh, sidelined for the second straight night to rest minor bumps and bruises.
"This season's been a long, short year," Wade said. "But this is the time of the year we all love and enjoy."
Howard done for year
Dwight Howard told ESPN.com he will have season-ending back surgery.
Orlando's All-Star center will undergo surgery this morning in Los Angeles to repair a herniated disk. The operation will end his season and keep him from playing in the Olympics in London.
Howard told ESPN: "I tried to play through it and it just made my back worse."