The suddenly struggling Chicago Bulls are trying to hang on to a precarious lead atop the Eastern Conference as they get ready to host the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
LeBron James made sure the Bulls' vaunted depth didn't play a factor in a late-season duel of the Eastern Conference's best on Thursday.
James scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out six assists, while Dwyane Wade added 18 points and five assists as Miami downed Chicago, 83-72.
Mario Chalmers helped out with 16 points, as Miami did just enough offensively and took advantage of Derrick Rose's absence to move within one game in the loss column of the Bulls for the East's top record.
John Lucas led the Bulls with 16 points, while Joakim Noah posted a double- double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. Luol Deng chipped in with 11 points for the Bulls, who are just 7-6 in their last 13 games.
"In the fourth quarter we had a shot...and then we had a few bad possessions in a row that just swung the game open the other way," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Rose is targeting next Wednesday's game against Indiana for his return and will likely sit for a fourth consecutive game tonight with a balky right foot and ankle. Chicago is 17-9 without the reigning MVP in what has been an injury-plagued season for him.
Dallas, meanwhile, has locked up the West's sixth seed with just two games left in the regular season giving coach Rick Carlisle the freedom to manage the playing time of his veterans.
The Mavs, who will be making their 12th straight postseason appearance, won their second straight game on Friday when Vince Carter scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, helping Dallas to a 104-94 triumph over the Golden State Warriors.
Brandan Wright added 17 points off the bench on 8-of-9 shooting. Dirk Nowitzki and Delonte West each had 16 points, two more than teammate Shawn Marion.
"These last two games we've got to get better and get ready for the playoffs. We've got to be sharp," Wright said.
The Bulls have already taken two games from the Mavs this season, including a 82-77 win in the Second City on Jan. 20.