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The Heat now sit atop the overall NBA standings, having gained 12 games over New York in the East entering Wednesday, put away the Hawks for good several weeks ago and become, by far, the league’s best road team. And with the streak over, all that’s left is getting ready for the postseason.
"When you look at what they’ve done, to be the defending world champions and to have a winning streak like that knowing that everyone’s chasing you, credit them," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I think you can learn from them."
Miami had won 13 straight on the road and fell one shy of the club record.
Thibodeau said Noah was improving but wasn’t ready to return.
Tom Boerwinkle, the former Bulls center who had a franchise-record 37 rebounds in a 1970 game against the Phoenix Suns, died Tuesday. He was 67. Boerwinkle played 10 seasons with the Bulls from 1968-69 to 1977-78 and also worked as an analyst on the team’s radio broadcasts from 1991-94.
The Heat trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, took the lead while outscoring Chicago 22-14 in the third quarter and were within two early in the fourth after a basket by Wade.
That’s when Deng answered with a 3-pointer from the wing and Kirk Hinrich brought the crowd to its feet with a floater. Then, after a layup by James, Deng nailed a 3 to make it 83-75 with just over six minutes left.
It got testy after that. James did all he could to keep the streak going, taking enough hard hits that even his headband was dislodged, and finished with seven rebounds.
Bosh scored 21. Wade added 18 points after a sore right knee sidelined him for victories over Charlotte and Orlando, but the Heat fell to a team that continues to give them fits even though Derrick Rose has been sidelined all year.
Deng came up big, burying four 3-pointers. He also had seven rebounds and five assists.
Boozer was a force inside. Jimmy Butler provided a spark with 17 points and the Bulls stopped Miami even though they were missing Joakim Noah (right foot), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and Richard Hamilton (lower back).
"It says we have a good team," Gibson said. "It’s all about what we think in the locker room. A lot of people kind of write us off every other day, but we just stick to our principles and do what we have to do."
For the Heat, luck simply ran out after recent wins in which they rallied after trailing Boston by 17, Cleveland by 27, and Detroit and Charlotte by 11 each. They were also tied with Orlando late in the third quarter before pulling away, and when Battier nailed a 3 with 4:30 left in the third, it looked like they just might pull this one out, too.
They were leading 59-58 after that shot, and they were up by two before Boozer converted a three-point play off a neat bounce pass from Gibson in the closing seconds to send Chicago into the fourth quarter with a 69-68 lead.
But they came up short down the stretch, fans chanting "End of streak! End of streak!" in the closing minute.
"We were much more competitive in the second half. It became make or miss in the fourth quarter, and we couldn’t get the necessary stops we needed to," Spoelstra said. "In the last handful of games, those shots were going down and maybe that masked a few things going down the stretch."
There was a rumor that Rose would make his long-awaited return from a knee injury after rapper Waka Flocka Flame posted on Twitter, "Word is D.Rose back." The two are fans of each other, but the superstar point guard squashed it at the morning shootaround, with two words — "Not tonight."
Rose actually sounded more like someone who will sit out the entire season, saying his recovery is "in God’s hands." He hasn’t played since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in last year’s playoff opener against Philadelphia, sending the top-seeded Bulls to a first-round exit, and his comeback has become an ongoing soap opera.
The Bulls were the biggest threat to Miami in the Eastern Conference the past two years, but without their superstar, they’re just part of the pack.
Even so, no one has given the Heat more trouble since James and Bosh united with Wade in 2010. They had split 14 games leading up to this one, with Chicago winning at Miami in early January and the Heat returning the favor at the United Center last month.
"All in all, it’s been a great one," Bosh said. "We still have a lot of work to do. The streak wasn’t important to us. What’s important to us is winning the title. That’s what we work on. That’s what we’re here for."
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