Bulls 117, Heat 93

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MIAMI – Luol Deng scored 17 of his 26 points to spearhead Chicago’s first-half rally from an early 15-point deficit, and the Bulls also got 18 points apiece from Andres Nocioni and Ben Gordon to beat the Miami Heat 117-93 and clinch an Eastern Conference postseason berth.

Chicago’s win not only spoiled Miami’s home finale, it eliminated any hope Orlando and Philadelphia had of sneaking onto the East’s playoff bracket.

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 211/2 minutes and Shaquille O’Neal for the final 161/2. No Miami starter played in the fourth quarter, with coach Pat Riley apparently deciding that avoiding injury was more important than anything else.

Antoine Walker had 22 points and O’Neal added 14 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.

All eight spots in the East field are now taken, although only the top four seeds – Detroit, Miami, New Jersey and Cleveland – are set.

The rest of the seeding structure probably won’t be known until the regular season ends Wednesday night, but the Bulls – who 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 arena emptied.

Kirk Hinrich had 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds for the Bulls.

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.

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 Bulls dig out from a 15-point hole – and once Chicago got the lead late in the half, they kept it the rest of the way.

Miami was down by 10 midway through the third, then got within 74-70 on Jason 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 the period.

From there – especially with Wade and O’Neal watching – the outcome seemed all but certain.

Notes: 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.

AP-ES-04-16-06 1536EDT

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