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The heat is on Miami Heat in race for home-court edge in playoffs

Derrick Rose is expected play against Hewhich is three games behind Bulls race for home-court advantage.  |  John

Derrick Rose is expected to play against the Heat, which is three games behind the Bulls in the race for home-court advantage. | John Smierciak~AP

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Updated: May 13, 2012 10:32AM

Derrick Rose was hurt, and the Knicks were looking for a second victory in a row against the Bulls, whose lead in the Eastern Conference seemed to be slipping away.

Twenty-four hours later, after the Bulls dispatched a potential first-round playoff opponent to improve to 16-7 without their best player, they seemed more like a team in complete control and the toughest questions were being leveled at a Miami team that lost to the Celtics for the second time in a week.

Considering that Rose, Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng have missed more games (69) then the Bulls have played (58), why is the Heat three games behind the Bulls in the race for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs heading into tonight’s game at the United Center?

Welcome to the day-by-day emotions of playoff basketball, which, like pollen, arrived early this spring thanks to angst about Rose’s status and two games against the Heat in the next eight days.

“We’re chasing them,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They’re the Eastern Conference Champions. We’re chasing them. That’s the way we’re looking at it.”

Rose claims whether he plays is his decision alone. On Tuesday night, however, vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman walked out of the training room minutes before it was announced that Rose would miss the game because of a twisted ankle despite his wanting to play.

In that sense, the playoffs have already arrived, because every decision seems magnified.

“It’s going to be a fun game,” Hamilton said of the third meeting between the Heat and Bulls “Any opportunity you get to compete, especially against one of the elite teams in the NBA, you know it’s always going to be exciting.”

Rose’s expected return against a Miami team that has gone 13-9 since the All-Star Break and has lost five of 10 means both teams will have their star players on the floor, although how Hamilton plays against Dwyane Wade and how Carlos Boozer matches up with Chris Bosh could have as much to do with this and future outcomes.

Any playoff series between the teams might boil down to the matchup of Bosh vs. Boozer. If that’s the case, it might be advantage Bulls because while Boozer has gained confidence with solid play on both ends of late, Bosh struggled mightily against the Celtics.

“[Boozer is] sort of a lightning rod for our team but when you look at everything he’s done he has had a terrific year,” Thibodeau said. “He hasn’t missed one practice and he hasn’t missed one game. We’ve got to find ways to get him more shots. Part of it is he is so unselfish when the second defender is coming, he’s making the right play. But we still have to give him that second look in the post.”

Another matchup to watch involves Hamilton against Wade. The last time these two met, Hamilton had a bum leg and still helped hold Wade to 4-for-16 shooting in a 97-93 loss in Miami on Jan. 29.

“[Wade is] aggressive every time down court,” Hamilton said. “He can score in so many ways. He can pass, he can shoot, he can get to the basket. You’ve got to be prepared to play him for 48 minutes.”

If the Bulls can split their final two games with the Heat, they should be able to hold them off for home-court advantage.

“One year we didn’t have the No. 1 seed and we won the championship and one year we had the best record in the league, and we didn’t get to the Finals, so I really don’t pay it any mind,” Hamilton said, referring to his years with the Pistons. “You’ve got to be playing the best basketball you can play going into the playoffs.”

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