MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – With the NBA regular season winding down, teams are pushing hard to secure their playoff positioning.
As the inconsistent Chicago Bulls seek cohesiveness for the playoffs following Derrick Rose’s return, the Miami Heat remain engaged in a fight for a postseason berth.
With Rose likely to play limited minutes, the Bulls will try to avoid a season-high fourth straight road loss Thursday night, while the Heat look to keep pace in the race for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
Rose finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting in just under 20 minutes in Wednesday’s surprising 105-103 loss at Orlando after missing 20 games while he recovered from surgery on a minor meniscus tear in his right knee. Rose missed most of 2013-14 after an operation to repair a similar injury in the same knee.
The Bulls have gone 29-18 this season with their star point guard on the court.
“I felt all right,” the former MVP said. “I think it was about right. It’ll get better the more I play, but I’m getting better every week. It’ll take some time, but I’ll get there.”
Since Rose has averaged 10.3 points on 25.6 percent shooting in his last four games dating to before the injury, Chicago (46-32) hopes he can shake off the rust over the final four regular-season contests.
The Bulls also want to give Rose, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Mike Dunleavy some time together after Wednesday marked just the 20th time they all started.
“That’s all you can do is try to build some continuity,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Cleveland locked up the Central Division title on Wednesday, while Chicago fell into a tie with Toronto in the race for the East’s third seed following their loss in Orlando. The Raptors own the tie-breaker as Atlantic champions.
The Bulls will now try to avoid their 13th loss in 17 road games as they conclude this three-game trip at Miami (35-43).
The Heat had a hold of seventh place on March 20 before a 2-7 stretch left them on the outside of the playoff picture. They’re looking to climb back within a half-game of a spot after ending a four-game skid with Tuesday’s 105-100 home win over Charlotte.
“We know where we stand,” said guard Dwyane Wade, who had 19 points. “We’ve got some tough games (left) and we have an opportunity to give ourselves a great chance by the way we play – especially here at home.”
Goran Dragic finished with 28 points for his highest scoring game since arriving in a February trade. Former Chicago forward Luol Deng contributed 21 points as the Heat won for the ninth time in 11 games at American Airlines Arena.
Dragic averaged 22.0 points on 52.0 percent shooting in his last three games against the Bulls while with Phoenix, and Deng has totaled 32 points and 20 rebounds in the two matchups this season.
After the Bulls held the Heat to 35.0 percent shooting in a 93-75 road win Dec. 14, Miami evened the series by limiting Chicago to 35.6 percent in a 96-84 victory at United Center on Jan. 25.
Hassan Whiteside starred in that win and posted a triple-double with 14 points and 13 boards to go with a career-high and Heat-record 12 blocks.
The Heat have gone 10 for 55 (18.2 percent) from 3-point range in the past three games and they’ve made just 5 of 35 in the two matchups with the Bulls, one of the league’s best at defending the arc.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)