The Chicago Bulls know they can beat the Miami Heat without Derrick Rose. They might need to do it again without the reigning MVP and their other All-Star.
Regardless of who is in their lineup, the Bulls have a chance to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference if they can avoid a fourth consecutive road loss to the Heat on Thursday night.
Two nights after suffering a surprising 87-84 home loss to Washington without Rose (foot) and Luol Deng (ribs), Chicago (47-15) bounced back minus their All-Star duo to win 100-68 at Charlotte on Wednesday.
That victory came minutes before Miami (44-17) won its fourth straight game, 96-72 over Toronto. The Bulls have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Heat in the East, and a victory Thursday would secure Chicago the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage throughout the conference playoffs since they would hold the tiebreaker should the Heat match their record at season’s end.
“You try to put as many things in your favor as possible,” coach Tom Thibodeau told the Bulls’ official website. “Is (the No. 1 seed) a must? I always think if you can get it, you get it. If not, whatever your circumstances are you make the best of those circumstances.”
The Bulls’ current circumstances revolve around Rose, who has missed the last two games with his latest injury and 25 this season.
“Of course I would want to come back as soon as possible to get my rhythm going,” said Rose, who has watched his teammates go 17-8 without him. “My biggest thing is my heath now. Just getting me healthy I should be able to iron out the wrinkles.
“I would want to play as soon as possible. I miss the game.”
Deng, meanwhile, feels confident he will return after also missing the last two. However, he’s totaled 27 points on 10-of-26 shooting in two games versus Miami this season.
Without Rose, Chicago won 106-102 over Miami at home March 14. The Bulls also pulled out a 96-86 overtime win over the Heat last Thursday despite two points on 1-of-13 shooting from Rose.
He scored 34 points in Chicago’s 97-93 loss at Miami on Jan. 29. Including the postseason, the Bulls have averaged 90.3 points and shot 41.6 percent during a three-game skid at Miami.
Chicago will have Rip Hamilton in the lineup after he scored 22 points for the second straight game Wednesday. Hamilton scored 11 on just 4-of-16 shooting at Miami in January and finished with seven against the Heat last week.
“We just want to get out there and hopefully get a win,” Hamilton said. “Miami has a lot of special players. It won’t be easy.”
With stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh given the night off, LeBron James scored 28 points and the Heat shot 52.6 percent Wednesday to improve to an NBA-best 26-4 at home.
While Wade and Bosh are expected to be ready for this contest. James has played all but one game while averaging 27.1 points to contend for another MVP award.
“It’s just how I am,” said James, whose 37.6 minutes per game ranks among the most in the league. “When I go on the floor, if I’m in uniform, I’m trying to play at the highest level. I don’t try to take minutes off or take games off when I can. … I just want to be the best.”
James has averaged 33.3 points on 51.4 percent shooting versus Chicago this season. He had 35 and 11 rebounds in the January home victory.