Heat beat Bucks

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MIAMI – Shaquille O’Neal had 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead a balanced Miami effort, and the Heat defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 115-89.

The Heat never trailed and had six players in double figures, including all five starters. Udonis Haslem scored 16 points and Dwyane Wade had 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for Miami, which won for only the fourth time in its last eight games.

Charlie Bell had 20 of his season-high 29 points in the first half for Milwaukee, which came in averaging 110.8 points in its previous five outings. Michael Redd had 16 points and Toni Kukoc added 13 for the Bucks.

Miami (49-25) preserved its 31/2-game lead over New Jersey (45-28) and four-game edge over Cleveland (45-29) in the battle for the East’s second-best record behind Detroit, which has already locked up the No. 1 seed.

The Heat have eight regular-season games left, including a visit by the Pistons on Thursday night; Cleveland and New Jersey, who both won Tuesday, have eight and nine games left, respectively.

Milwaukee (37-37), which fell to 3-11 against the East’s top four teams, stayed in sixth place in the conference, 11/2 games behind fifth-place Washington and one game up on idle Indiana.

Antoine Walker and Derek Anderson each had 14 points for Miami, which also got 13 from Gary Payton. The Heat shot 72 percent in the first quarter, 80 percent in the third, and wound up at 62 percent for the game.

Miami opened the game on a 13-0 run, its best start of the season. The Heat led by 17 after one and were up 33-14 early in the second period. But behind Bell, the Bucks hung around for a while.

He replaced starter Bobby Simmons 42 seconds into the game and sizzled, making 7 of 10 shots, going 6-for-7 from 3-point range and scoring a season-high 20 points – by halftime. Bell and Kukoc each hit 3-pointers to highlight a 10-0 Milwaukee run over a 97-second stretch, drawing the Bucks within 47-40.

But Miami restored a 12-point lead by intermission, with Payton getting four points in a 0.9-second span. He hit a 3-pointer with 2.0 seconds left, then got fouled intercepting a long pass and made one free throw for a 55-43 Miami advantage.

Haslem had 10 points in the third quarter and the Heat extended the margin to 87-63 late in the period before settling for an 89-69 lead entering the fourth.

Notes: The Bucks, who had two turnovers in their last 61:18 coming in, made two in the first 2:23. … Milwaukee made more 3-pointers (eight) in the first half than 2-pointers (seven). … Wade (1,267) moved into third place on Miami’s all-time assist list, passing Sherman Douglas (1,262). … Miami was again without starters James Posey (right Achilles’ tendinitis) and Jason Williams (right knee tendinitis). Walker and Payton took their places. … Bell’s total is the highest any reserve has managed against Miami this season. … The Heat led entering the second quarter for the first time in five games.

AP-ES-04-04-06 2210EDT

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