For all the talk about who started Thursday night, the Bulls showed once again why finishing is most important.
Hours after coach Vinny Del Negro raised eyebrows by starting Kirk Hinrich for the banged-up Derrick Rose, the Bulls continued to turn the United Center into their house of pain with an aggressive 106-87 victory over the Heat.
With their sixth win in seven games and the Pistons' home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls are — brace yourself — tied for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
They also have just one game remaining against a team with a .500 record or better and stretched their lead for the eighth spot to three games over Charlotte and 31/2 games over Milwaukee.
The Bulls, who own the third-best record in the East behind Cleveland and Orlando since the All-Star break, are 23-12 at the United Center.
"The biggest thing is to have momentum when the playoffs start," Tyrus Thomas said. "We have that."
John Salmons' 27 points led the Bulls, who placed all five starters in double figures for the second straight game and shot 52.6 percent. That included a sizzling 53.3 percent on three-pointers.
"We're playing well," Salmons said. "When the ball is moving like that, it's hard for defenses to guard teams. We have a lot of bounce on offense."
Dwyane Wade scored 31 points but managed only 10 in the second half for the Heat, which lost to the Bulls for the first time in four games this season.
The Bulls broke the game open with a 15-0 run to close the third quarter.
After Wade's driving layup brought the Heat within 64-63 with 4 minutes 3 seconds remaining, Salmons sank a three-pointer. Michael Beasley missed a jumper, and Salmons converted a layup at the other end.
Wade missed a three-pointer, and good ball movement led to Hinrich swishing a three from the wing. Salmons, who had 13 in the quarter, scored on another lay-in. After Jamario Moon missed a three-pointer, the Bulls pulled off the sequence of the game.
Salmons, ignoring a sore groin, missed a jumper, but Brad Miller hustled for a second-effort offensive rebound. He fed Rose, who drove and tossed an alley-oop for Thomas. As Wade fouled him, Thomas slammed home a vicious dunk, then converted the three-point play as the sellout crowd of 21,908 went bonkers.
"Now that I know Tyrus can jump that high, I'm just throwing it up there," Rose said.
Thomas, with 15 points and 13 rebounds, posted his fourth double-double in five games. Hinrich's 15 points featured four three-pointers, and Del Negro praised his defense on Wade.
Rose, who missed his first game Tuesday with a wrist injury, came off the bench to a rousing ovation at the 4:49 mark of the first quarter and finished with nine points and seven assists in 30 minutes.
"I got hit a couple of times," Rose said, "but I rubbed it right off."
Kind of like the Bulls are doing.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun