Heat's road woes could play to Bulls' advantage in playoffs

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Heat's road woes could play to Bulls' advantage in playoffs

CHICAGO - Chris Bosh admitted prior to Thursday's Bulls-Heat matchup that if it came down to a Game 7 between the two powerhouses in the Eastern Conference Finals, he would rather have home-court advantage.

That possibility crept further away after the Bulls' 96-86 overtime victory over Miami at the United Center.

The Heat now sit at 40-17, four games behind the 45-14 Bulls in the bid for the No. 1 seed in the East. Miami has nine games remaining, Chicago has seven.

"Mathematically, we have a chance, but it looked better this morning," Bosh said after the game. "We just have to really put that behind our minds and just focus on tomorrow. Game 7 is a long ways away. We just have to stick with what we're doing."

The Bulls earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs last season, but it didn't wind up mattering against the Heat. After claiming Game 1 in Chicago, the Bulls then lost four straight, including two in the United Center.

However, it may have more of an impact this year. The Heat have won just three of their last 11 road games and it's starting to get to them.

"Today would have been a great turnaround, but we're just going to have to wait longer," Bosh said. "We can't do anything about it. It is what it is. We just have to move forward and figure this thing out together.

"We're going to get this thing done. We're going to figure it out. We can't change anything right now. We're stuck in this position and we've been here for a while. We're just going to have to keep our heads up and get the job done."

Dwyane Wade echoed his teammates' thoughts.

"We'll keep pushing through it," he said. "It's not all good. It's not perfect, but that's sports. That's this game. I've been here nine years, and no team has ever been perfect. We've all gone through lows and we just have to correct it."

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra isn't too concerned, however.

"It's OK," he said after Thursday's game. "We understand what we're playing for. Things change very quickly in this league. Just like this game, if we could have pulled it out in regulation. It changes in matter of 24 hours."

Miami is 0-2 in Chicago this season and most are expecting these two teams to match up in the Eastern Conference Finals once again.

If that happens, a Game 7 is not a stretch at all.

The Bulls and Heat have been evenly matched all season. Before Thursday's overtime period, each team had scored exactly 283 points in 12 quarters of head-to-head play. However, the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, has contributed just two points in the last two games combined.

If the Heat can't correct their road woes by that late in the playoffs, the Bulls could have the edge.

"There is no easy win," Spoelstra said. "What we're trying to do will be the hardest thing that we have to do collectively as professionals. There are several legitimate teams that are contending for this one title. There will not be an easy road. And right now, we're dealing with that tough road."

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After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn't have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 points in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."