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James, Heat beat Bulls 88-65 for 3-1 series lead

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CHICAGO (AP)

The way this series is turning out, it's hard to believe the Miami Heat ever trailed the Chicago Bulls.

They're running away with the Eastern Conference semifinals, and another performance like this will end it.

LeBron James scored 27 points and the Heat nearly matched a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a playoff game, pounding the listless and short-handed Bulls 88-65 on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

''We just worked as hard as we could on defense,'' Chris Bosh said. ''After the Game 3 performance, we really didn't feel like we did a very good job. We just wanted to have more energy today and concentrate on our coverages a lot better.''

Well, how's this for a result?

The 65 points allowed were only two more than the all-time postseason low for a Miami opponent, and it was easily the worst offensive performance by a Chicago team in the playoffs.

Never before had the Bulls scored fewer than 69 in a playoff game nor 10 or less in a quarter during the postseason, but both those marks fell on a night when they were dominated on both ends of the floor.

Miami led by 11 at the half and put this one away in the third quarter, outscoring Chicago 17-9 in the period.

Now the Heat will try to wrap up the series at home Wednesday night, taking what they hope will be the next step toward a second straight championship.

They're in this spot because they shook off a loss in the series opener and haven't looked back.

Miami pounded Chicago in Game 2, coming away with its most lopsided playoff victory while handing the Bulls their worst ever postseason loss - and the Heat continued to roll from there.

James had his usual complete game with eight assists and seven rebounds Monday.

Bosh finished with 14 points after scoring 20 and grabbing 19 rebounds in Game 3, and the Heat won again despite another quiet night from Dwyane Wade (six points), whose right knee was bothering him again. He appeared to aggravate it on a fallaway jumper during the game but was able to return after getting re-taped.

''It's frustrating at times, but you just try to do what you can,'' Wade said.

Norris Cole also struggled with seven points after back-to-back 18-point performances, but the Heat had more than enough in this one.

They shot about 49 percent while the Bulls set a franchise playoff low at 25.7 percent. Chicago was particularly bad from the outside, going 2 for 17 from 3-point range.

The Bulls again were missing ailing Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich (calf), and a team that kept finding ways to win despite being short-handed all season simply appeared to run out of steam, even though coach Tom Thibodeau rejected that idea.

''No,'' he said. ''I think the thing is they're (Heat) a great team. We have to come out with great intensity - but we also have to make shots.''

There's no denying the Bulls have been in a tough spot all year with Derrick Rose recovering from knee surgery and just about every other major player sidelined at some point. They've been hit particularly hard in the postseason, too.

''They're in a tough situation,'' James said. ''They've had some injuries and illnesses and whatever's going on. They don't have their full roster, but that's not for us to worry about. They beat a very good Brooklyn team (in the first round) without their full roster.''

Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double in the postseason, but was just 3 of 14 from the field. Jimmy Butler scored 12 and Joakim Noah grabbed nine rebounds, but it was a miserable night for Chicago - particularly Nate Robinson. With Cole and Mario Chalmers harassing him and the big men helping out, he missed all 12 of his shots and did not score.

He said he fell hard on his left shoulder on a pick-and-roll at one point, although he couldn't remember exactly when, and had it wrapped in ice afterward. Then he took off the wrapping and threw it hard to the floor.

''Go back to the drawing board and figure it out,'' he said.

Richard Hamilton scored 11 points in a rare postseason appearance, and the former All-Star guard made it clear afterward he's not thrilled with his reduced role.

''Lot of stuff in life you don't understand,'' he said. ''This (playoffs) is what I was brought here for. To not be able play and help my teammates, it's hard, it's rough. But I try to stay positive. I don't try to rock the boat.''

Hamilton said he and Thibodeau have talked. Then, he reiterated, ''It's hard to understand.''

Notes: The Heat and Bulls were well represented on the NBA's all-defensive first team, with James and Noah being selected. ... Thibodeau had nothing to say about the $35,000 fine from the league for comments he made about the officiating in Game 3. Asked if he was surprised by the amount, he said, ''I've got no comment on that. We're just getting ready for Game 4.'' ... Deng was listed as active after initially being ruled out for Chicago. Hinrich and Rose were inactive.

Tagged: Bulls, Heat, LeBron James

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