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Despite crushing loss, Bulls take heart from split

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - The Chicago Bulls suffered their worst ever playoff defeat on Wednesday to the Miami Heat but took comfort in having stolen homecourt advantage from the defending champions.

A depleted Bulls team split the opening two games of the series and, despite Miami's brutally spectacular 115-78 win on Wednesday, remain defiant as the Eastern Conference semi-finals now shifts to the Windy City for the next two games.

"We got punched in the mouth," said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who was ejected in Wednesday's game where, at one stage, Chicago trailed by 46 points. "We'll be back; we'll be back in two days. That game isn't going anywhere. The ball is going to go up and we'll be there.

"We came here and we did our job. We won a game; we got the homecourt (back)."

The series resumes at Chicago's "Madhouse on Madison" on Friday and the Heat's LeBron James understands why the Bulls will not be too deflated by their recent thrashing.

"They did what they wanted to do. They came in and stole home court from us. Now we have to go to Chicago and try to take it back," said James.

While the Heat's dominance on both sides of the ball in Game Two bode well for their chances of making a third straight trip to the Eastern Conference final, the physical nature of Wednesday's clash is likely to continue.

The much-vaunted difference between regular season and playoff basketball was sharply evident in a game which saw nine technical fouls and plenty of hard challenges.

The Bulls had Noah and Taj Gibson ejected in the fourth quarter with Gibson, who left the court yelling abuse at the officials, likely to face a fine.

But while Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was disappointed that his players lost their composure he was dismissive of the suggestion that the game had been chippy and said he expected his team to match the Heat physically.

"It was just playoff basketball. You have to have more fight, more determination. They are a great team, you have to keep coming for 48 minutes. You can't relax," he said.

"You got to get into a fight, you're going to get hit. You have to own your own space."

His Miami counterpart, Erik Spoelstra, argued that his team had been clean in the battle but said they now needed to put Wednesday's emotions aside.

"We were able to save this one but we are still in the hole," said Spoelstra.

"They got what they needed. They got one. It doesn't matter about the (Game Two) score. We need to move on and get ready to go into the lion's den on Friday."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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