February 22, 2013 / 5:03 AM / 6 years ago

Heat win ninth straight, tighten grip on East

Miami Heat's Ray Allen (R) steals a pass intended for Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago, Illinois, February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

(Reuters) - The Miami Heat tightened their grip on the Eastern Conference by routing the Chicago Bulls 86-67 on Thursday.

With the NBA’s trade deadline passing without any change among top contenders, LeBron James missed just four shots while compiling 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as Miami won their season-high ninth straight and stretched their conference lead to 5 1/2 games.

“We’re putting together some good basketball right now,” James told reporters. “If we don’t turn the ball over, we get good shots at the rim, we have a good chance to win.”

Miami (38-14) grabbed a 45-35 halftime lead and cruised against a Chicago team struggling to find offense without 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, who is hoping to return from a knee injury that has kept him on the sidelines this season.

After his brother had criticized Chicago ahead of the game for not making moves before the trade deadline, Rose said in a statement he and the Bulls were on the same page.

“I have always felt that the Bulls organization’s goals have been the same as mine and that is to bring another championship to this city,” he said.

Chicago (31-23) look far off championship contenders after losing for the fifth time in seven games.

Nate Robinson had 14 points for the Bulls, who were without Kirk Hinrich due to a sore elbow and committed 26 turnovers.

The Heat got 17 points from Dwyane Wade and 12 from Bosh.

Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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