NEW YORK (AP) — Derrick Rose might have already done enough to wrap up the MVP award.
The race for the NBA’s best record will go to the final day.
Rose and the Chicago Bulls stayed in the race for it, overwhelming the New York Knicks to start the second half and winning 103-90 on Tuesday night for their eighth straight victory.
Rose scored 26 points for the Bulls, who opened the third quarter with a 26-2 spurt over the first 7-plus minutes and improved to 61-20. Luol Deng added 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 22 boards as Chicago outrebounded New York 51-33.
“We came out kind of soft,” Rose said. “Second half, Tibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) came in at halftime and talked to us and we changed things.”
Chicago, already assured the best record in the Eastern Conference, entered play a game behind San Antonio for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The tiebreakers are all even, so a random drawing would be held if they finish with the same record as the Spurs, who faced the Los Angeles Lakers later Tuesday.
“That’s something special. It’s definitely something that we want, but we have to look at the bigger picture. For us it’s all about improvement and just focusing on the next opponent and the results will take care of themselves,” forward Joakim Noah said.
The Bulls host lowly New Jersey on Wednesday night, while San Antonio goes to Phoenix.
“I’m not worried about it,” Rose said. “If anything, get some rest right now and hopefully I come out healthy tomorrow.”
Just in case he still needed to, Rose put on a show for the MVP voters watching the nationally televised game, shooting 10 of 19 and throwing down a few crowd-pleasing dunks as the Bulls ran away from the Knicks after losing the first two meetings.
“Rose is amazing. His athletic ability is ridiculous. He’s come farther, quicker, faster than anyone expected,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s playing at a level that not many people play.”
Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points for the Knicks who had their seven-game winning streak snapped. Locked into the No. 6 seed and a first-round matchup with Boston, New York rested Amare Stoudemire for the third straight game, though his sprained left ankle was well enough to play.
Stoudemire might sit again Wednesday when the Knicks close the regular season at Boston in a playoff preview.
“They came out and made a run at us in the second half,” said Knicks guard Chauncey Billups, who considers Rose the MVP. “You could tell that they were playing for something. It’s a really good team.”
Bill Walker scored 18 points and Toney Douglas had 13 for the Knicks, who had won the first two meetings and were trying to sweep the Bulls for the first time since winning all three in 1999-00. New York had been the only team Chicago hadn’t defeated at least once this season.
“They played great defense out there,” Anthony said. “Second half we missed some shots, they got out in transition, got some easy baskets, got some stops, they opened the game up.”
The Knicks scored 120 points in one of those victories, the highest allowed by the defensive-minded Bulls this season. But after allowing 55 in the first half Tuesday, Chicago was at its stingiest after the break.
After Keith Bogans’ basket opened the second-half scoring, Rose scored seven straight to give Chicago a 61-55 lead. Anthony got the Knicks on the board with a jumper, but the Bulls quickly blew it open with 17 consecutive points.
Deng had the first six and Rose contributed the highlight, a reverse dunk after a turnover that had the crowd roaring before Noah’s free throws extended it to 78-57 with 5 minutes left in the period. New York missed 12 of its first 13 shots in a stunning drought for the team that ranks second in the NBA in scoring.
“Our defense has been our key all year,” Deng said. “There’s times where we don’t play like we should, but the majority of the time we’re going to make it hard for the other team.”
New York got back within seven early in the fourth, but Rose nailed a 3-pointer and it wasn’t close again.
Rose was loudly cheered during starting lineups and had the fans screaming again a few minutes later. An alley-oop pass that he caught below the rim and powered it up and through with one hand tied it late in the first quarter before Walker’s 3-pointer gave the Knicks a 27-24 lead. Their lead was still three at halftime after shooting 56 percent.
NOTES: Rose is on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, the first Bulls player to earn that honor since Michael Jordan in 1999. … Anthony was last week’s Eastern Conference player of the week, the first Knicks player to win it in consecutive weeks. … Bulls reserve guard Ronnie Brewer played just 8 minutes in the first half before leaving with a sprained left thumb.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)