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Revenge motivates Heat to defeat Bulls

The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- It's not easy for the Miami Heat to stay motivated right now.

They have clinched the best record in the NBA and will have home-court advantage for as long as they are alive in this year's playoffs.

But until the postseason actually begins next weekend, the Heat have to play some mind games to push through these final regular-season games.

On Sunday, the Heat used revenge as a tool, delivering payback to the team that ended its 27-game win streak, beating the Chicago Bulls 105-93 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"A game like this gets you ready for next week," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Even so, it won't be anything near to what next week will be about."

The Heat will play the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls' opponent has yet to be determined.

On Sunday, LeBron James had a game-high 24 points, Dwyane Wade scored 22 and point guard Mario Chalmers added 15 points to lead the Heat.

Miami's big men also played well. Chris Bosh had 12 points, nine rebounds and a game-high four blocks. And Chris "Birdman" Anderson came off the bench to contribute 15 points, seven rebounds and one block in 15 minutes.

"He has come in and kind of changed the culture of the (centers) here in Miami with his energy and effort," Wade said of Anderson, who made 4 of 4 shots from the field and 7 of 11 from the line. "He can really help us, the way he blocks shots and dunks."

The Heat, who outscored Chicago 30-23 in the third quarter to take control of the game, improved to 36-4 at home this season, setting a franchise record for home wins.

Chicago was led by Carlos Boozer, who had 16 points and a game-high 20 rebounds. Luol Deng had 20 points, one of six Bulls scorers in double figures.

Still, the Bulls have lost 10 of their past 13 on the road, and Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau did not seem pleased when he spoke to the media after Sunday's game.

"This was a winnable game for us," Thibodeau finally said, after his first few answers to questions from the media were confined to one or two words.

"They (the Heat) are a great team -- give them credit. But they got a lot of calls that went their way. But that was to be expected (on the road)."

Miami and Chicago split the season series, two games each. Before Sunday, the most recent game between the teams was on March 27, when the host Bulls beat Miami 101-97, ending the second-longest win streak in NBA history.

That has been the identity of the Bulls this season -- playing to the level of their opponents. On Thursday, they ended the Knicks' 13-game win streak.

In fact, entering Sunday, the Bulls had won four straight games against playoff teams: Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn and New York.

On the flip side, though, all of the Bulls' past six losses have come against teams that will not make the playoffs.

And although the Bulls were not able to keep the trend alive of beating top teams, there may be some benefit to the loss. The Bulls are now one game back of Atlanta for the fifth seed, which would put the No. 5 team in jeopardy of facing the Heat in the second round of the NBA playoffs. As the sixth seed, where the Bulls now sit, they would not face the Heat until the Eastern Conference finals, assuming both teams make it that far.

Early in Sunday's second quarter, the Heat led by 15 points. But powered by Nate Robinson's 10-point second quarter, the Bulls closed the gap and trailed 56-54 at intermission.

The Heat's slim lead was startling considering they shot 65 percent from the field compared with 42 percent for Chicago. The Heat, though, was minus-five on turnovers.

Looking ahead, the Heat appear to be even better than the Miami team that won the 2012 NBA championship, a point that drew no disagreement from Spoelstra.

"I think we are better, more prepared, and we have more depth," said Spoelstra, whose team ends the regular season with a game at Cleveland on Monday and a home matchup against Orlando on Wednesday.

Thibodeau, meanwhile, prefers not to talk postseason at the moment. His team closes with games at Orlando on Monday and home against Washington on Wednesday.

"Hopefully, we will get a couple of our (injured) guys back soon," he said. "But I don't want us thinking about the playoffs. I want us thinking about Orlando."

NOTES: Bulls forward Rip Hamilton missed Sunday's matchup because of an NBA-imposed one-game suspension. Hamilton was banned for an elbow he threw at the face of Toronto's DeMar DeRozan on Friday. Hamilton, who was immediately ejected after the incident, has missed 31 games this season and had just returned after being out for six weeks because of a back injury. ... Thibodeau said Hamilton was the victim of a "tough" call. "There was a lot of grabbing and holding on the play," Thibodeau said. "The league makes those decisions. There's not much you can do about it. I am surprised, but that's what happens." ... Bulls big men Taj Gibson (knee injury) and Joakim Noah (foot) are still out. ... Heat forwards Udonis Haslem (ankle) and Shane Battier (knee) missed their second straight game. ... On Friday, James became the youngest player to log eight seasons of at least 2,000 points. ... Wade, who returned to action Friday night for the first time since missing six games with knee and ankle injuries, said his conditioning is not where it needs to be. "In the first quarter (Friday)," Wade said, "I felt like they cut off all the air in Miami."

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