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In matchup of East’s best, Heat blow out Bulls

The Heat are now 20 games above .500.

Chicago Bulls v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, the top two (and most consistent) teams in the Eastern Conference, faced off Monday night. It wasn’t much of a battle.

The Heat jumped out to a 24-11 advantage in the first quarter and never relinquished the lead. Miami led by as many as 24 points and held on for a 112-99 decision; the final score appeared closer that it was because of a late Bulls run in garbage time. Miami now sits at 41-21 and a full two games ahead of Chicago for the top seed in the East.

After the Bulls cut into Miami’s lead to close the first half, a decisive third-quarter Heat run put the game away. Gabe Vincent started in place of Kyle Lowry, who missed the game due to personal reasons. And as he’s often done, Vincent filled in admirably for the six-time All-Star. Just look at this play here.

Six straight points from Vincent — a three-point play and a 3-pointer — put the Heat up 63-48 with 9:21 left. Then, two 3s from Duncan Robinson extended the lead to 20. And in the early stages of the fourth quarter, Max Strus went on a scoring binge to keep the Bulls at bay. Strus didn’t play in Miami’s win over the San Antonio Spurs — he may be the odd man out as Erik Spoelstra tightens his rotation in preparation for the playoffs — but he ensured Butler didn’t have to check back into the game.

The fourth quarter also featured this Caleb Martin dunk over Nikola Vucevic. (This game also featured a P.J. Tucker dunk in the first quarter.) Martin scored nine points off the bench.

Vincent finished with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, including 4-of-8 from downtown. He’s made such a leap from last year that now Spoelstra will have to figure out how to put Victor Oladipo into the rotation without taking Vincent out.

Along with Vincent, Tyler Herro also scored 20 points. He’s played so well since coming back for the All-Star break — Herro missed Miami’s last three games going into the break. He consistently found the seams in the defense to make a pull-up jumper or drive into the lane. Along with the scoring, the Heat’s 2019 first-round pick also grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists, including a Lowry-like hit-ahead for a Bam Adebayo slam.

Speaking of Adebayo, he contributed 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes of action. He used his quickness to drive to the basket and draw fouls. The two-time All-NBA Defensive Team selection also made a great recovery to block a Nikola Vucevic alley-oop in the second quarter.

Butler also scored 15 points. He shot just 4-of-13 from the field and even missed three free throws tonight — an uncharacteristic drop-off over the last three games for someone who has shot nearly 90 percent from the line. But the seven-time All-Star still found ways to contribute, like collecting four steals.

The Heat will have tomorrow off before visiting the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night at 8 p.m.