But the Heat wasn't trying to win an NBA beauty pageant at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night. Its goal was to continue its improved play at home and notch a much-needed victory over the Chicago Bulls.
With several key players missing for both teams, the Heat had enough personnel - even on a night when Dwyane Wade struggled - to get past the Bulls 108-95. Miami extended its season-best homecourt winning streak to five games and also gained ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Heat accomplished plenty, albeit in ugly fashion Friday. Miami moved up to seventh place in the East, with a half-game lead over Toronto and a 2-1/2 game edge over the Bulls.
Miami did it without the services of Dorell Wright, who began his two-game suspension for his DUI arrest after Wednesday night's victory against the Clippers. Miami did it without Michael Beasley, the team's second-leading scorer who sat out with a deep left thigh bruise. And Miami did it without Rafer Alston, whose indefinite suspension was upgraded to a separation for the remainder of the season.
In other words, the Rafer Alston experiment is over.
"We are at the point where we must move forward with the rest of the season during our playoff push," Heat president Pat Riley said of officially parting ways with Alston, who abruptly left the team last week after he was demoted from the starting lineup and has yet to communicate with the team.
The Heat was able to overcame all of the distraction, in part, because it faced a team that seemed to be in much worse shape. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.
In other words, these weren't the Bulls.
D. WADE'S DOINGS: Wade emerged from the first quarter with as many turnovers (five) as he had points (five). That tells you the kind of night he was having. Still, he managed to close with 22 points after he scored nine in the fourth quarter. Wade really didn't wake up until he got into that little testy brush with Bulls center Brad Miller, who was called for a flagrant foul on Wade midway through the fourth quarter. Wade was aggressive, although he wasn't necessarily dominant. This was a night when his teammates had to carry their weight early and often. Even with the six total turnovers, Wade had seven assists. It helped that Jermaine O'Neal and Quentin Richardson had their games going well.
TURNING POINT: The Heat outscored the Bulls 29-18 in the third quarter, when it pushed its lead to 18 points. The Heat shot 53 percent from the field, was 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. Miami also held the Bulls to 37 percent shooting.
WINNING/LOSING EDGE: The Bulls were without three of their four most productive players in Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. The Heat was only without one of their four most productive players in Beasley. Advantage: Heat. That simple.
HEAD-SCRATCHER: Apparently, the Heat finally wised up and realized that waiting on that phone call from Rafer Alston was time well wasted. I'm wondering what took the franchise so long. Even if you take Alston at his word that he left mainly because of a family issue, it was completely unprofessional to never get in touch with anyone in the organization to offer an explanation. The Heat severed ties for good with Alston on Friday, when Pat Riley upgraded Alston's suspension from indefinite to a parting for the rest of the season. Alston was on a prorated, one-year contract for the vet's minimum, which means his days in Miami are over. The reunion was ruined. The Heat can move on. For whatever reason, there's somewhat of a dark cloud over the franchise right now, considering the events of the past two weeks. But the Heat is putting aside the distractions of the Alston fiasco and two player arrests by winning basketball games.
KEY CONTRIBUTION: Quentin Richardson and Jermaine O'Neal stepped up huge to help the Heat overcome a night when Wade was off and Beasley was out of the lineup with an injury. Richardson, the league's most productive three-point shooter this month, tied his season high by drilling seven treys and finishing with 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the field. O'Neal scored a season-high 25 points on 8 of 13 shooting from the field and 9 of 11 shooting from the free-throw line. That's playoff-level production. Now, they must find a way to maintain that production as the Heat's playoff push intensifies.
NEXT UP: Philadelphia 76ers at Heat, 6 p.m. Sunday - AmericanAirlines Arena.