MIAMI (AP) -- Luol Deng got a nice gift for his 21st birthday.
He's headed to the playoffs.
Deng scored 17 of his 26 points in the first half to spearhead
the Bulls' rally from an early 15-point deficit, and Chicago also
got 18 points apiece from Andres Nocioni and Ben Gordon to beat the
Miami Heat 117-93 Sunday and clinch an Eastern Conference
"This was his present," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said.
Chicago could still finish in a number of different spots on the
playoff bracket, and Bulls coach Scott Skiles made it clear
afterward that his team won't be happy settling for the No. 8 spot
-- and a first-round meeting with Detroit.
"It's no secret that the last couple of years we were trying to
rebuild and redo our team, and there's a lot of teams that try to
do that and can't get in the playoffs," Skiles said. "For our
guys to get in is a tribute to the way they have been resilient and
stayed with it."
Chicago's win not only spoiled Miami's home finale, it
eliminated any hope Orlando had of sneaking onto the East's playoff
bracket. Later Sunday, Philadelphia -- which could have passed
Chicago by winning its final two games and hoping the Bulls lost
their final three -- was ousted from the playoff picture when
Washington beat Cleveland and secured its own postseason berth.
And, almost certainly to the chagrin of the Magic and 76ers, the
Heat -- who already have secured the No. 2 seed in the East --
elected to rest Dwyane Wade for the final 21½ minutes and Shaquille
O'Neal for the final 16½. No Miami starter played in the fourth
quarter, with coach Pat Riley apparently deciding that avoiding
injury was more important than anything else.
"Trying to be cautious," said Heat forward Antoine Walker, who
had a team-high 22 points.
O'Neal added 14 points in 20 minutes for Miami. Wade had only
eight points on 2-for-12 shooting in 20 minutes, ending his
team-record streak of 78 straight games in double figures.
"They were playing for something real big today and they got
it," Riley said of the Bulls. "We've just got to keep moving on,
finish the season."
Only the top four seeds -- Detroit, Miami, New Jersey and
Cleveland -- are set for the East playoffs.
The rest of the East field will be filled by Washington,
Indiana, Milwaukee and the Bulls, but the full seeding structure
probably won't be known until the regular season ends Wednesday
night. Regardless, Chicago -- which snapped an 11-game losing streak
at Miami -- seemed overjoyed to simply secure a postseason
invitation, whooping it up on the bench in the final moments as the
Hinrich had 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds for the
Michael Doleac scored 12 points and Derek Anderson added 10 for
the Heat, who had point guard Jason Williams (nine points) and
James Posey (seven points) return from extended injury absences and
start tuning up for the playoffs.
"Today is not indicative of who we are," Riley said. "It's a
little bit indicative of who Chicago is. I was very conscious of
minutes and then at the end, I was very conscious of health."
And he wasn't only referring to his team's health. Riley left
after the game to visit his ailing mother Mary Riley, 96, who still
lives near the Schenectady, N.Y. area where he grew up. The team
isn't sure if Riley will coach when the Heat visits Atlanta on
Gordon hit his first 3-pointer of the game, giving him 10
straight makes from behind the arc following his 9-for-9 effort
against Washington on Friday night. His streak ended later in the
opening quarter, leaving him three shy of tying the NBA record of
13 straight shared by Brent Price and Terry Mills.
The Heat scored 35 points in the game's first 11:50, then needed
another 19:59 to score 35 more as Chicago held Miami to 39 percent
shooting over that stretch.
That helped the Chicago dig out from a 15-point hole -- and once
the Bulls got the lead late in the half, they kept it the rest of
Miami was down by 10 midway through the third, then got within
74-70 on Williams' layup. But the Bulls scored the next 10 points,
with Gordon's 3-pointer putting Chicago up 84-70 with 2:15 left in
From there -- especially with Wade and O'Neal watching -- the
outcome seemed all but certain.
"We played well. We clinched it. It's just a good feeling,"
Deng said. "Now we've still got to play for a higher spot."
The Bulls are 16-4 when Deng scores 20 or more points. ...
Walker outscored Chicago's starters 14-12 in the first quarter. ...
Hinrich, Wayne Simien and Tyson Chandler all committed offensive
fouls in the first 27 seconds of the second quarter. ... Eagles
quarterback Donovan McNabb sat a few rows above the Chicago bench,
and actor Anthony Michael Hall was courtside opposite the Heat
bench. ... Miami sold out all 41 home games, setting a new
single-season attendance record. ... Eight seconds were put back on
the clock in the fourth quarter after Doleac made a free throw and
the Bulls put the ball into play. Problem was, Doleac had only
taken one of his two shots.
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