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Heat raze Bulls 127-109 for 50th win

CHICAGO (AP) – The Miami Heat appear to be back on steady ground after stumbling through a season-high four straight losses. Their grip on the number one seed in the Eastern Conference is tightening, too.

Jimmy Butler scored 22 points, Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro added 19 apiece and the first place Heat beat the Chicago Bulls 127-109 yesterday.

Bam Adebayo scored 16 as Miami increased its lead over second-place Milwaukee to one and a half games. The Heat moved within a win of securing home-court advantage in Round 1 of the postseason. And if they go 3-1 the rest of the way, they’ll clinch the top seed in the East.

The way they were reeling a week ago, it’s quite a turnaround. They bounced back from a loss to Brooklyn, then beat struggling Sacramento and surging Boston before having their way with Chicago.

“I think we just had a little bit of a rut, which most teams go through at some point in the season,” Lowry said. “I think it was an opportunity for us to settle things down and communicate a little better.”

The hot-shooting Heat (50-28) also reached the 50-win mark for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They might have two years ago, when they went 44-29 in the pandemic-shortened season and advanced to the NBA Finals.

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine drives to the basket against the Miami Heat. PHOTO: AP

“It just shows you, even when you feel like you have a culture and you’re doing things right, it’s hard to win consistently in this league,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When you have to retool and rebuild new teams and rosters, it’s tough. The league is really competitive.”

Miami built a nine-point halftime lead and broke it open in the third quarter. The Heat shot 53.7 per cent in the game and made 17 of 34 three-pointers.

Butler, the former Bull, had seven rebounds and six assists. Herro had a strange stat line, matching a season high by nailing six of seven 3s, including three in the third. But he was zero for nine on two-point attempts.

Dewayne Dedmon added 14 points, and the Heat won their third straight.

“We have a long way to go to be at their level,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said.

Zach LaVine led Chicago with 33 points. DeMar DeRozan finished with 26, though he shot 6 of 18, and the Bulls once again lost to an elite opponent. Chicago is a combined 2-19 against the top four teams in the East and West.

The sixth-place Bulls fell a half-game behind Toronto with four to play. Chicago, which led the conference for part of the season, is trying to stay in the top six and avoid the play-in round.

The Heat were ahead 66-57 at halftime after Lowry made three free throws in the closing seconds. Herro heated up in the third, scoring nine and hitting a three in the final minute to make it 98-79.