Bulls deny Hawks' bid to clinch playoff spot

CHICAGO 114, ATLANTA 81

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ATLANTA --- Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls turned a heartbreaking loss in Atlanta into more motivation for their surge to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Rose had 30 points and 10 assists, helping the Bulls move back in the East's top spot with a runaway 114-81 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.

The Bulls began the night tied with idle Boston for the conference's best record.

Chicago led by 19 points in the second quarter of their 83-80 loss in Atlanta on March 2. Since then, the Bulls have won 10 of 11, including two lopsided wins over Atlanta.

Rose said the Bulls made sure there would be no repeat of the loss to the Hawks earlier this month.

"Right when we got the lead we were just telling each other it's not going to happen again," Rose said. "After that game, we all felt bad. It hurts. We don't want that feeling anymore."

Rose closed the first half with three 3-pointers, including one just before the half ended. The Bulls led 72-43 at the break after outscoring the Hawks 41-22 in the second period. Chicago made 31 of 42 shots (73.8 percent) in the half and finished at 54.4 percent.

Fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" during Rose's spree of 3-pointers. He went 6 for 8 from long range for the game.

The Bulls are making it more difficult for coach Tom Thibodeau to find fault in their wins.

Thibodeau said he wasn't satisfied with Chicago's defense in its 132-92 home victory over Sacramento on Monday night. One night later, the Bulls tightened their defense as Rose and Luol Deng led a devastating first-half offensive performance.

Chicago's starters sat out the final period after the Bulls set season highs with 41 points in the second period and 72 points in the first half. Deng finished with 27 points.

"We have a lot of confidence," Deng said. "When our mindset is right on defense, we seem to work harder on offense. When we're not as focused on defense, it kind of leads to our offense. We just go through the motions. So it always starts with defense."

Added Deng: "We're trying to do great things in the playoffs."

Still, Thibodeau took a look at the Hawks' 45.3 field-goal percentage and said there is room to improve.

"Uh, yeah," Thibodeau said. "They shot too high of a percentage. So, defensively there's a lot of things we can clean up.

But I like the fact that we got the big lead, and we played tough with the lead."

The Hawks were denied an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot and absorbed their first home loss to Chicago in four years.

Jeff Teague scored 17 of his 20 points in the fourth for Atlanta, which trailed 98-60 after three and also decided to rest its starters in the final period. Josh Smith and Al Horford had 14 points apiece, but Horford departed in the third with a strained hamstring.

Hawks coach Larry Drew said he expects Horford will be able to play Wednesday at Philadelphia.

The Hawks, who lost 100-59 to New Orleans at home on Jan. 21, came close to a second 40-point home loss. Chicago's big lead was 47 points.

"This is starting to get embarrassing," Smith said, adding the Hawks showed "no resistance" in their seventh loss in the past 10 games. "We didn't help each other, and when you don't help each other it gets contagious," Smith said.


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