Bulls hope to lock up top seed vs. struggling Cavs

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Bulls hope to lock up top seed vs. struggling Cavs

Friday, April 8, 2011
Posted: 10:35 a.m.
Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls took a huge step towards securing the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference with a dominating performance their last time out.

A matchup against the conference's worst club could help them clinch.

Seeking a fifth consecutive win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls begin a three-game trip Friday night looking to lock up the top seed in the East.

Chicago (58-20) defeated Boston 97-81 on Thursday night to increase its lead over the Celtics and Miami for first place in the conference to four games with four remaining.

The Bulls, winners of five straight and 17 of 19, can earn home-court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs with a win or a Celtics loss. Boston hosts Washington on Friday.

"I always said that we could compete with some of the best teams in the NBA," said MVP candidate Derrick Rose, who scored 30 points. "At training camp and in the beginning of the year, I thought my team's ready to fight. I just saw what we were going through in training camp. Guys were keyed in and focused, making sure that they came in very, very hungry, wanting to win."

Rose, the only NBA player who ranks in the top 10 in both points (25.1) and assists (7.9), is averaging 27.0 and 9.0, respectively, in three wins over Cleveland in 2010-11.

Chicago, which hasn't finished atop the East since winning the most recent of its six NBA championships in 1997-98, has won eight of nine on the road - including four straight by an average of 15.7 points while shooting 51.6 percent.

Carlos Boozer is averaging 14.7 points - 3.0 less than his season mark - on 39.6 percent shooting over his last three games. The forward, who spent the first two years of his career with the Cavaliers, has averaged 20.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in the last two contests against his former team.

The Bulls are allowing an average of 93.6 points over their current win streak. They have won 13 in a row and are 48-2 when holding opponents under 95 points.

While Chicago has held the Cavaliers to 84.3 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting this season, forward Luol Deng knows his team can't overlook them.

"We never look at their record. Cleveland is playing some good basketball," said Deng, who scored 23 points against the Celtics.

"...(Thursday) was a big game, we know that, but our mentality gotta be the next game. We walk out of this locker room, get on a plane, our mindset gotta be right, we can't take any team light."

Following a 99-89 win over Charlotte on Tuesday, Cleveland (17-61) defeated Toronto 104-96 on the road Wednesday night, recording back-to-back victories for the first time since a three-game run Nov. 5-9.

"We are starting to see the benefits of hard work," guard Daniel Gibson said. "After all of the tough things that have happened, we are starting to understand what it's all about to play basketball the right way and win games."

Big man J.J. Hickson continued his impressive play with 28 points and 10 rebounds against the Raptors.

Hickson, averaging 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds over his last 11 games, had 13 points on 26.3 percent shooting and a career-best 20 boards Jan. 22 in a 92-79 loss at Chicago

The Cavaliers have won three of four at home while limiting opponents to 92.3 points per game.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gar Forman defends Jimmy Butler trade

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AP

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gar Forman defends Jimmy Butler trade

On the latest Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Vincent Goodwill recap the Bulls' busy NBA Draft and the decision to trade Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. 

Bulls general manager Gar Forman joins the panel for an exclusive interview. He breaks down why the organization decided to move the three-time All-Star. 

Click here to Bulls Talk Podcast.

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

The Bulls entered rebuild mode on Thursday night after they dealt Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They acquired a pair of guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick which they used to select Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen.

But the Bulls opted not to continue adding youth to their roster when they sold their second-round pick, No. 38 overall, to the Golden State Warriors. That pick was Oregon power forward Jordan Bell, who many considered a late first-round prospect.

The move was perplexing for a team that hours earlier had traded away its franchise player to start a youth movement. But VP John Paxson said after the draft that the decision to move the pick was based on team depth, hinting at a significant move the Bulls will make in free agency.

"We had some wings on our board that we had targeted that were the only way we were going to keep that (No. 38) pick, and they went before us. And drafting Lauri (Markkanen), and the fact that we have, Niko’s a restricted free agent we intend to bring back, Bobby Portis, we didn’t want to add another big and that’s really all that was left on our board."

Both Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have said since the season ended that Mirotic, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, is part of their future plans. The Bulls will be able to match any contract that another team offers Mirotic, and they intend to keep the 26-year-old in Chicago. After Butler's departure, Mirotic is now the longest tenured member of the Bulls. He's been with the team for three seasons.

The wings Paxson may have been referring to include Miami's Devon Reed (32nd overall to Phoenix), Kansas State's Wesley Iwundu (33rd overall to Orlando) or SMU's Semi Ojeleye (Boston, 37th overall). Point guards Juwan Evans (Oklahoma State) and Sterling Brown (SMU) were still on the board and potential options, but the Bulls were set on looking for wing help after receiving point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine in the Butler trade.

The Bulls frontcourt depth looks filled, as Cristiano Felicio is expected to return behind Brook Lopez. Mirotic, Portis, Markkanen and Joffrey Lauvergne should make up the power forward depth chart. Opting against using the 38th pick, which Golden State bought for a whopping $3.5 million, also leaves the Bulls with room to add a 13th player in the fall.

"It keeps us at 12 roster spots and gives us real flexibility for our roster," Paxson said. "So we didn’t just want to use up a roster spot on a player that we probably wouldn’t have kept."