Heat advance to Eastern Conference Finals

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Heat advance to Eastern Conference Finals

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Miami's Big Two was more than enough to finish off the Indiana Pacers.Dwyane Wade and LeBron James turned around a season on the brink with perhaps the most remarkable week of their high-powered partnership, capped off by a 105-93 victory in Game 6 Thursday night that sent the Heat back to the Eastern Conference finals.Wade scored 41 points, James had 28 and Miami wrapped up the series 4-2, advancing to face either Boston or Philadelphia.But this was about more than one game.This was a dazzling trilogy, Wade and James taking control when the Heat were down and looked like they might be out."In the regular season, we've had some good games," Wade said. "But I don't know if we've ever had three in a row like that in the playoffs."Seven days earlier, Miami trailed 2-1 in the series after getting routed 94-75 in Indianapolis. The fired-up Pacers had another game on their home court and a chance to build a commanding lead.Instead, the Big Three-Turned-Two took over.
With Chris Bosh sidelined by an abdominal injury, James and Wade soared to new heights in their two-man game. Over the course of three dazzling games, James scored 98 points, grabbed 34 rebounds and dished out 24 assists. Wade had 99 points, 22 rebounds and 11 assists."Ever since Game 3, they've played at such a high level," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "I don't know if anybody can beat them."Next up, either the Celtics or 76ers in a series that starts Monday in Miami. Of course, nothing less than an NBA title will make for a satisfying summer in South Beach.Two series down, two to go.The Heat rallied from an early 11-point deficit, riding the hot hand of Wade in the opening half. He scored 26 points by the break, tying Tim Hardaway's 16-year-old franchise record for most playoff points in the first two quarters. James hit consecutive baskets with just over a minute remaining to close it out."We understand that when Chris went out, we had to step up," Wade said. "The team looked to us to lead."The banged-up Heat will get a chance to relax a couple of days before worrying about the next opponent, which will be determined in Game 7 at Boston on Saturday.Bosh hopes to return at some point, but it might not matter.Not the way Wade and James are playing."Chris Bosh is an awesome basketball player, but when he goes down, that just means more touches for LeBron and Wade," Vogel said. "That's not exactly an advantage."David West led Indiana with 24 points and all five starters were in double figures. But that balance was overwhelmed by Wade and James.In a game of spurts, the decisive one came in the closing minutes of the third quarter.The Pacers tied it at 66 on Darren Collison's 3-pointer, but it was all Heat the rest of the period. They closed on a 13-3 run, capped by Mario Chalmers' buzzer-beating 3 from the corner. Wade, who was on the bench getting his customary breather at the end of the quarter, leaped from his seat as the ball left Chalmers' hand at the far end, raced along the baseline and pumped his fist when it swished.When Chalmers raced toward the Miami bench, Wade greeted him near the free throw line with a low-five."We just had a bad stretch," West said. "They got us in the third quarter."Cheerleading aside, D-Wade did his best work while in the game. He dropped 11-of-16 shooting on the Pacers in the first half, but also made sure the MVP stayed involved, dishing off a behind-the-back pass to James for a thunderous jam."They're too good. They capitalize on your mistakes," West said. "We were too loose with the ball. They pressure you all over the place."Indiana clamped down a bit on Wade after halftime, but he still managed perhaps his most jaw-dropping basket. Darting into the lane, he threw up a wild-looking, one-handed shot that looked like it might go over the backboard, only to catch the top of the glass and drop through, barely touching the twine.There was none of the nastiness that marked Game 5, when a bunch of flagrant fouls resulted in suspensions for two Miami players, co-captain Udonis Haslem and backup center Dexter Pittman. Pacers president Larry Bird was so disgusted with his team's performance in a 95-86 loss that he accused them of going "soft."Toughness wasn't the problem this time. This was merely a Miami team on a mission, a mission that began in the summer of 2010 when the Heat signed James and Bosh to join Wade in a seemingly unbeatable trio. There was a glitzy introduction and predictions of multiple championships, which left the rest of the league seething and plenty of people cheering when Miami was knocked off in the NBA finals by the Dallas Mavericks last season.Shaking off that disappointment, James had perhaps his greatest season yet. But it was Wade who took control in the decisive game against the Pacers, delivering one final blow when he split West and George Hill, banking in the shot despite taking a knee from Hill that sent the Heat guard tumbling to the court."We just didn't have enough yet," Vogel said, "but we'll be back."Chalmers finished with 15 points, while Mike Miller stepped up to provide some quality minutes, scoring 12 points on four 3-pointers to help fill the void without Haslem, Pittman and Bosh.When Miller wasn't in the game, he stretched out along the baseline to cope with his various aches and pains, more comfortable that way than sitting in a chair. When coach Erik Spoelstra called his number, Miller summoned several of his teammates to help lift him up."He might be the toughest guy on the team," Wade said.The Pacers started out like they were intent on sending the series back to Miami for a decisive game that surely would have had all of South Florida on edge.West knocked down a short jumper right off the tip, Danny Granger stuffed one off a fast break, and the Pacers had their yellow-clad fans in a tizzy when Granger connected on a 3-pointer to make it 13-3 before the game was 5 minutes old. Another basket by Granger, this one a turnaround jumper, gave the Pacers their biggest lead at 19-8.But Miami wasn't going to roll over that easy. Miller made the first of his 3s in the closing seconds of the first quarter, and Wade took over from there. He started the period by banking in a 12-footer, then made another short jumper to leave the crowd stirring uneasily. Miller followed with another 3 - and just like that, it was all tied up.Yet another 3 by Miller, this one a good 5 feet beyond the arc, gave Miami its biggest lead of the half, 41-35. Back came the Pacers, who went to the locker room with a 53-51 lead and hope of extending their season for at least one more game.Turns out, they were down to their last half.Notes: Indiana started 8-of-9 from the field, but went just 26-of-61 (43 percent) the rest of the way. ... The Heat held the Pacers to an average of less than 40 points in the second half over the last three games. ... Miami had only 10 turnovers, its fewest in the series.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls in Detroit for fourth game in five nights on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls in Detroit for fourth game in five nights on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Pistons tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Stop the bleeding. The Bulls have now lost two in a row for the second time this season. The recent slump is four losses out of the past six and three of those losses have come to teams with losing records. Any momentum from beating Cleveland is long gone after back-to-back losses. The Bulls need to get back in the win column. 

2. Fourth game in five nights. A rested Dwyane Wade, who did not travel with the team to Dallas on Saturday, put up 34 points in Monday's 112-110 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Now the Bulls are facing the second of a back-to-back and a fourth game in five nights. So far this season the Bulls are 2-2 in the back end of back-to-backs.

3. Inserting Rondo back in the lineup. Rajon Rondo is epected to return from his one-game suspension for Tuesday's game in Detroit. The Bulls didn't win without Rondo and replacement Jerian Grant was just 1-for-7 from the field. Getting Rondo back at point guard should help the Bulls.

4. Bench production. It's been a theme throughout the season, but the Bulls need better production out of the bench. In Monday's loss to Portland, all four Bulls who came off the bench posted negative plus-minus numbers while all four Blazers off the bench were on the plus side. When Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler combine for 60 points at home, the Bulls should be able to win those games, but that didn't happen against the Blazers.

5. Balanced Pistons. When Reggie Jackson scored 18 points in his first game of the season in the Pistons' loss to the Magic on Sunday he became the seventh player on the team to be averaging double figures in scoring. The Heat are the only other team in the NBA that can say that. For the record, the Bulls have five players who average double figures.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

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Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

With his old teammate Robin Lopez in front of him and his feet at the United Center sign on the floor, Damian Lillard threw caution to the wind as he sensed the end was near.

With redemption on his mind and the Bulls on the ropes, Lillard unleashed a long triple that took the air out of the building with five minutes and pushed the Portland Trailblazers lead to 10.

The Bulls got closer but a few disastrous minutes spelled doom in their 112-110 loss Monday at the United Center, their third defeat in four games as they were without Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team earlier in the day.

Dwyane Wade scored 34 points with four rebounds and four assists in his return from a one-game rest while Jimmy Butler scored 26 with seven rebounds and five assists but the Bulls shot just 42 percent and committed 15 turnovers, many of them unforced against a defense that isn’t known for stopping opponents.

Lillard hit free throws in the final minute after the Bulls pulled to within three with 18.2 seconds left but his triple was a backbreaker.

It gave the visitors the push they needed after trailing to start the fourth, going on a 13-3 run while the Bulls missed 11 of their 13 shots to start the period, halting a relatively smooth offensive game to that point.

“They made plays, I thought we hung our heads, got a little deflated a bit. You can’t do that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Without Rondo to perhaps settle them down, much of the burden relied on Wade and Butler to create as Jerian Grant couldn’t repeat his magic from their earlier meeting when he scored 18 and had five steals.

On this night, Grant went one for seven in 23 minutes and amassed just 16 assists, five off their season average.

And when their offense abandoned them, they couldn’t get enough stops against a potent Trailblazers team that loves playing fast and loose. Chicago native Evan Turner hit two big baskets during the run, as he hit five of six on the night to score 11.

“Tonight was an offensive battle and they’re better at that game than us,” Wade said. “You don’t want to lose at home. Just not being aggressive defensively. Can’t let them get to their spots.”

It obscured the fact the Bulls held the Blazers to 47 points in the second half and achieved most of their pregame goals: keeping the Blazers from hitting 10 triples, winning the free-throw battle (38-18) and outscoring them in the open floor (26-9).

The Bulls harassed Lillard into one of his worst shooting nights of the season in a blowout win a few weeks ago and he made amends with a 26-point, seven-assist night.

“We allowed them to get to the basket,” Wade said. “Highest scoring backcourt in the league for a reason.”

He looked to start off on the right foot from the jump, taking advantage of Grant off the dribble, and his backcourt mate C.J. McCollum wasn't far behind.

The Bulls’ defense was confused on rotations, allowing Lillard, McCollum and Allen Crabbe to feast early on. McCollum ran around screens and read a slow-reacting Bulls defense, nailing jumpers over flat-footed defenders.

Crabbe scored 17 off the bench while McCollum hit 10 of 19 to score 24, as the Blazers hit nine triples at 39-percent accuracy.

The trio of guards combined for 45 in the first half and the Bulls needed to make an adjustment.

“We want to get up and put pressure on that team when they get into their stuff,” Hoiberg said. “A high powered backcourt, as high powered as you’re gonna play all year. They got free and hit long, contested two’s. That’s what we wanted to force them into.”

So Butler started the third quarter defending Lillard and it seemed to throw off the Blazers’ rhythm. The Bulls took a 67-66 lead minutes into the second half and held off the duo until McCollum’s 25-foot triple right at the end of the third.

Butler wanted the matchup to start the game but Hoiberg, aware of the rigorous stretch the Bulls are in, waited until it was halfway through before unleashing his best defender on Lillard.

He dropped in another two minutes into the fourth to give the Blazers a 90-89 lead.

By then, they were in a dogfight and unable to slow down the hot shooting Blazers.