Bulls hang on, beat Suns 97-94

Derrick Rose finished with 19 points, Luol Deng scored 18 and the Chicago Bulls continued to close in on the top seed in the Eastern Conference, hanging on to beat the Phoenix Suns 97-94 Tuesday.

They lead Miami and Boston by three games, with the Celtics visiting Thursday.

The Bulls led by 13 at the half and 22 in the third, only to see Phoenix whittle it to two in the fourth quarter, before pulling out their 16th win in 18 games.

Rose hit just 6 of 15 shots, but converted several big ones down the stretch, and the Bulls had too much balance and too much at stake to lose to a team that's out of the playoff race.

Joakim Noah added 12 points, including eight in the third quarter, after missing three games with a sprained right ankle. Carlos Boozer scored 12 after sitting out Monday's practice with an illness, and Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson scored 10 each off the bench.

Vince Carter scored 23, but the Suns lost for the sixth time in seven games. Grant Hill and Channing Frye scored 13 each, and Steve Nash had 16 assists after missing two games with flulike symptoms.

The Suns made it interesting, particularly when Carter converted a four-point play with just over seven minutes remaining. That cut Chicago's lead to 89-85 and Hill made it a two-point game two minutes later when he drove for a layup.

The Bulls looked as if they were in good shape when Rose got fouled converting a floater with just under two minutes left, fans chanting "MVP! MVP!" as he hit the free throw to make it 94-89. But the Suns weren't finished. Frye answered with a 3 to make it a two-point game.

After a shot-clock violation by the Suns with 51.3 seconds left, Rose made a long jumper off the dribble to boost Chicago's lead to 96-92.

Carter then drove for a layup to pull the Suns within two with 26.7 seconds left. With a chance to make it a two-possession game, Chicago's Kyle Korver missed the first free throw before converting the second to make it 97-94 with 13.1 seconds remaining.

Nash then drove the lane in the closing seconds and passed to Marcin Gortat, who missed a jumper. And Carter missed the tip-in as the buzzer sounded, the Bulls escaping with a wild win.

Notes: Kobe Bryant vs. Derrick Rose in the NBA finals? Suns coach Alvin Gentry could see the Lakers and Bulls meeting for the championship. "I wouldn't be surprised if those two teams (Lakers and Bulls) played in the finals," he said. ... The Bulls are 19-5 with Boozer and Noah playing. ... The Bulls honored incoming Hall of Famers Dennis Rodman, Artis Gilmore and Tex Winter with a video tribute during a first-quarter timeout. They are part of the class announced on Monday.