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BELIEVE IT OR NOT, BULLS ARE WORKING ON A WINNING STREAK

The Chicago Bulls are on another streak. A winning one, this time.

Ron Artest made a huge 21-footer with 1:58 left, the Bulls got tough on defense and Khalid El-Amin made five free throws in the closing seconds Saturday night to seal an 89-82 victory over the Miami Heat.

Chicago has followed its franchise-record 16-game losing streak with two wins in a row. It's the Bulls' first winning streak since Feb. 17-19, 2000.

"Everybody's just tired of losing," said Ron Mercer, who led the Bulls with 27 points. "It feels a lot better, but we can't be satisfied with two wins."

Especially not when they almost gave the second one away.

Chicago led by as many as 27 points -- a season high -- in the first half, as the Heat had one of their worst first halves ever.

They made just three field goals in the second quarter -- including Dan Majerle's three-point heave at the buzzer -- and shot a season-low 24 percent.

"It's a combination of fatigue and their quiet desperation," said Miami coach Pat Riley, whose team has gone to overtime four times in the last seven games.

"They got us back on our heels. We weren't ready for what they had."

But Miami looked like a different team in the third quarter, making up almost the entire 24-point halftime deficit. Tim Hardaway's 18-foot jumper with 19 seconds left in the third cut the lead to 64-61.

Chicago looked like a different team, too. After shooting 62 percent in the first half, the Bulls made only two field goals and shot a horrible 12 percent in the quarter.

"We knew they were going to come out with aggressiveness and they did," Bulls coach Tim Floyd said. "They forced a lot of turnovers. We did not get quality shots. That had more to do with them than with us."

Bruce Bowen's three-pointer got Miami within 78-77 with 3:37 left in the game. But the Heat had never rallied from more than 20 down, and they weren't going to change that stat Saturday night.

"We were up, what, three points with three minutes to go? We were confident," said Elton Brand, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. "We knew we were going to win it."

Mercer scored on a layup, and Artest followed with the 21-footer with 1:58 left to give Chicago an 82-77 lead. Then Chicago's defense kicked in. Grant tried three times for a layup, each time getting rejected by Brand.

The Bulls got the ball and Artest missed on the other end, but Marcus Fizer grabbed the rebound and El-Amin was fouled. He made both shots, giving Chicago an 84-79 lead with 22 seconds left.

After a dunk by Eddie Jones, Artest responded with a dunk of his own and El-Amin made three more free throws in the final 15 seconds.

"Even though our record says differently, we have to look at ourselves as a winning team," Brand said.

Artest finished with 16 points and El-Amin had 11. Marcus Fizer added 11 rebounds.

Around the rim

Jamal Mashburn scored 32 points and Baron Davis added 21 in the Hornets' 103-93 victory over the Bucks. Mashburn also had 10 rebounds and nine assists to barely miss a triple-double. Ray Allen led the Bucks with 30 points and Glenn Robinson had 24. . . . Michael Finley scored 26 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 25 points and 10 rebounds as the Mavericks stretched the Wizards' losing streak to six games, 112-105. Steve Nash added 16 points and nine assists for the Mavericks, winners of five of their last seven. . . . Steve Francis scored 35 points and Cuttino Mobley had 26 as the Rockets handed the Cavaliers their 10th straight loss, 92-80. Andre Miller led Cleveland with 29 points. . . . Antoine Walker had 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists to help the Celtics to an 85-81 win over the Blazers. Rasheed Wallace led Portland with 23 points. . . . Jason Terry's 28 points powered the Hawks past the Sonics, 101-94. Gary Payton netted 21 for Seattle.

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