Deng, Bulls Beat Heat to Clinch Playoff Berth
Chicago 117, Miami 93
MIAMI, April 16 (Ticker) -- Luol Deng had the happiest of birthdays.
On the day he turned 21, Deng scored 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting as the Chicago Bulls rallied past the Miami Heat, 117-93, to clinch their second straight playoff berth.
"It's a good feeling to clinch it on my birthday, but we want to build on this and see if we can climb a bit more," Deng said. "I had good looks (today) and didn't think twice about taking shots."
Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni added 18 points apiece and Kirk Hinrich chipped in 17 and eight assists for the Bulls (39-41), who won for the 11th time in 13 games to move into a three-way tie with Indiana and Milwaukee for sixth place in the East.
"We have a burst of momentum going now and we want to keep it up," Gordon said. "It's all about winning from here on out."
Washington (39-40) is in fifth place but has not yet clinched a playoff spot.
Chicago coach Scott Skiles took pride in his team's effort in rallying from an early 15-point deficit.
"We showed resiliency and played a lot harder after that (deficit)," Skiles said. "We started attacking the rim a little bit more instead of just shooting jumpers."
The Heat held a 40-25 lead with 10:45 left in the second quarter, but the Bulls outscored them, 33-13, the rest of the half and pushed their advantage to 88-74 entering the fourth quarter.
"They were playing for something really big today and they got it," Miami coach Pat Riley said of the Bulls. "We played well the first 16 minutes of the game but from that point on their effort, desire and will kept snowballing."
Chicago led comfortably throughout the final 12 minutes.
Antoine Walker had 22 points to pace Miami (52-28), which will be the second seed in the East and could face Chicago in the first round.
"I'm just trying to get some consistent play and get better and better for the playoffs," Walker said. "I'm feeling good about myself. I'm playing aggressively and I'm ready to go."
Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade scored eight points in the first quarter but was blanked thereafter, spending much of the second half on the bench.
"The key is being healthy and not worrying about the individual stuff," said Wade, who shot just 2-of-12 and failed to reach double figures in scoring for the first time this season. "I had some good shots but I just missed them. The playoffs will be a whole different story. We'll be ready."
Riley, who left for upstate New York after the game to be with his ailing 96-year-old mother, felt it was important not to sway from the game plan.
"I was very conscious of (players') minutes and in the end I was very conscious of health," said Riley, whose status for the Heat's last two regular-season games is uncertain. "Today is not a good barometer to judge us."