Monday , Apr , 17 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Deng celebrates birthday by leading Bulls back to playoffs

Miami, FL (Sports Network) – Luol Deng celebrated his 21st birthday in style
with a game-high 26 points, as the Chicago Bulls clinched a spot in the
playoffs with a 117-93 victory over the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena.

Deng had 17 of those points in the first half, as the Bulls rallied from a 15-
point deficit to win their fourth consecutive game. It was also their first
victory at Miami since January 18, 2000, ending an 11-game road skid versus
the Heat.

“I just fell into a rhythm and I had good looks,” Deng said. “I didn’t think
twice, I just let it go when I had the shot. I don’t mind coming off the
bench. It doesn’t matter.”

Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni each added 18 points, while Kirk Hinrich
finished with 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds for the Bulls, winners
in eight of their last nine games. By the end of the regular season, Wednesday
night, it’s conceivable for the Bulls to be seeded as high as fifth in the
Eastern Conference.

“It’s no secret the last two years we’ve been trying to rebuild,” Bulls head
coach Scott Skiles said. “For our guys to get in this is a tribute to the way
that they have been resilient and stayed with it. We want to move up. There’s
an opportunity to move up.”

Because the Bulls won, Orlando was officially eliminated from postseason
contention. Since Washington beat Cleveland on Sunday, the Wizards became
the final team to clinch a playoff spot in the East, eliminating
the Philadelphia 76ers from postseason contention.

Antoine Walker had 22 points for the Heat, who are locked in the second seed
in the Eastern Conference. Shaquille O’Neal added 14 points, but Dwyane Wade
struggled with just eight points on 2-of-12 shooting. Wade had his franchise-
record streak of 78 straight games of double figures snapped, as the Heat had
a two-game win streak broken.

The Heat scored 12 straight points to extend to a 23-12 lead in the opening
quarter. A pair of three-pointers by Walker highlighted the run and the Heat
led 35-25 after 12 minutes.

A Michael Doleac jumper moved Miami to a 40-25 cushion in the opening two
minutes of the second, but the Bulls responded with a 21-8 run to get within
48-46 following a free throw from Hinrich.

Walker’s three moved the Heat to a 53-48 lead with 3:54 left in the half, but
Chicago scored the final 10 points of the period and the first four points of
the third.

It quickly became a 10-point game on two Gordon free throws, making the score
67-57 with 9:27 remaining in the quarter. Wade picked up his fourth foul in
the period and had to sit for an extended period.

“We got a couple of guys in foul trouble and Coach continued to rest us and
let the reserves come in,” Wade said. “They played good, but the Bulls really
wanted it.”

Miami got within 74-70 on a basket from Jason Williams with 4:11 left in the
stanza, but the Bulls responded with the next 10 points to pull away for good.
Chris Duhon and Gordon ended the spurt with consecutive three-pointers, and
the Bulls led 88-74 going into the fourth.

Chicago led by at least nine the rest of the way and cemented the win by
scoring the final 14 points.

Doleac ended with 12 points and Derek Anderson scored 10 for Miami.

“They were a step ahead of us because of their effort and their energy and
their absolute desperation to make the playoffs,” Heat head coach Pat Riley
said. “When you get a team with that frame of mind, they are going to be a
step ahead of you.”

Game Notes

Chicago shot 50.6 percent from the field and outrebounded Miami, 45-35…The
Bulls beat Miami for just the third time in the last 17 meetings…Chicago
moved to 12-1 when Deng has at least 20 points…This was the most points
allowed by Miami this season.