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Bulls aim to clinch Central crown at the expense of Heat

The Miami Heat can move closer to the top spot in the Eastern Conference when they invade the Windy City tonight to take on a Chicago Bulls team on the verge of another Central Division title.

The Bulls can clinch their second straight Central crown and the eighth in franchise history with a win tonight. Chicago also won the old Midwest Division back in 1974-75.

The Heat are three games behind the Bulls for conference supremacy with 10 to play and have split six games so far this month. They are coming off Tuesday's 115-107 home loss to the Boston Celtics in the finale of a five-game residency and went 3-2 on the stand. LeBron James scored 36 points, Dwyane Wade had 20 and Chris Bosh chipped in 13 for Miami, which already clinched a playoff berth and is closing in on a second straight Southeast Division title.

Miami couldn't stop a Boston team that shot 60 percent from the floor.

"When they shoot like that, it's going to be tough to beat them," said Wade. "We can always do things better, but we give them credit. ... They didn't miss any shots."

Miami will play three of its next four games on the road and is 16-12 away from South Beach this season. It is 30-9 against teams from the Eastern Conference this season -- 13-6 as the guest.

Chicago just split a home-and-home series with the New York Knicks and recorded a 98-86 victory Tuesday night with Derrick Rose on the bench again because of a sprained right ankle. Rose had missed 12 straight games due to a groin issue and returned in Sunday's loss at New York with 29 points. Rose, who has missed 23 games this season, is questionable for Thursday and is averaging 23.0 ppg.

Richard Hamilton stepped up with 20 points and Luol Deng added 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Central Division-leading Bulls, who won for the second time this month (2-3) and rebounded from a 100-99 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden. The Bulls are also 16-7 without Rose in the lineup.

"We played better defense," Deng said of the difference between the two games. "We moved the ball well and got good shots."

Kyle Korver had 14 points off the bench. Chicago held a 47-32 rebounding advantage and pulled down 16 offensive boards. It improved to 23-6 at home and is 33-8 versus conference foes this season, including an 18-3 mark at the United Center. Playoff-bound Chicago is still the only undefeated team in the NBA (19-0) when it scores 100-plus points.

The Bulls and Heat have split a pair of meetings this season with each team prevailing as the host. The two teams will meet again April 19 down in Miami.

Miami has lost three straight and five of its last six at Chicago. The Heat knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs last season, winning 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.