Bulls still have plenty at stake entering regular-season finale

Bulls still have plenty at stake entering regular-season finale
April 16, 2014, 9:15 am
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CHARLOTTE—Heading into their regular-season finale, not only do the Bulls still have something at stake when it comes to playoff seeding, but so does their opponent, the Bobcats, not to mention a handful of other teams playing Wednesday night.

Following Monday’s home win over Orlando at the United Center, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau indicated he wouldn’t rest his starters or have his team be a willing participant in the ongoing late-season positioning that’s occurring in the East, other than to try to defeat Charlotte and if Toronto falls to New York, take control of the conference’s third seed. The Knicks, who beat the Bulls at Madison Square Garden to snap their season-high seven-game losing streak Sunday, have the opportunity to play spoiler by knocking off the Raptors—even with All-Star small forward Carmelo Anthony shut down due to a shoulder injury—after beating Brooklyn in Tuesday’s intra-city battle, a game in which the Nets rested several key players.

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Assuming first-year Nets head coach Jason Kidd takes the same approach Wednesday, in his team’s season finale against Cleveland, it would appear that Brooklyn would be comfortable with the sixth seed, potentially avoiding a first-round matchup with the Bulls. But Charlotte isn’t expected to go down without a fight, as the Bobcats, currently in seventh place, have a chance to move up a spot if they win and Washington loses to Boston.

Of course, if the Raptors and Wizards both win—the latter squad could end up as a fifth, sixth or seventh seed—it renders it renders all of the above moot for the two teams facing off at Time Warner Cable Arena. But given the tendencies of Thibodeau and first-year Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford, close friends form their days together as assistant coaches of Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks staff, it’s likely that the matchup is played with the same intensity that will be expected beginning Saturday, when the postseason officially begins.

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Whether the Bulls could end up hosting inexperienced Washington or Brooklyn—whose tactics, even with the veterans the Nets have, seem a bit counterintuitive for a team wanting a competitive edge when it matters most—there shouldn’t be much concern about their ability to flip the switch.