LIVE: Bulls look to extend East lead vs. Raptors

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LIVE: Bulls look to extend East lead vs. Raptors

Saturday, April 2, 2011
Posted: 10:49 a.m.
Associated Press
While many believe Derrick Rose is assured the MVP award, the Chicago Bulls likely need more victories to obtain the Eastern Conference's top seed in the postseason.

A visit from the struggling Toronto Raptors may help boost their chances.

Chicago looks to extend its lead atop the conference Saturday night when it hosts last-place Toronto.

With a victory, the Bulls (55-20) can pick up one-half game on Miami and Boston, which are both idle. They lead the second-place Heat by 2 12 games and the Celtics by three after beating Detroit 101-96 on Friday.

"Destiny is in our hands," Rose said. "We're just trying to finish the season strong."

Rose, who once again received chants of "M-V-P" throughout the game, scored a team-high 27 points and added seven assists. Rose is averaging 27.8 points and 9.8 assists over his last four games and has helped the Bulls win 14 of 16.

Chicago had won 14 in a row at home before a 97-85 loss to Philadelphia on Monday.

Carlos Boozer, who scored 22 points Friday, had a season-high 34 points and 12 rebounds Dec. 15 in a 110-93 win at Toronto.

"Carlos was outstanding," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When he's getting into the post, Derrick is getting shots off the dribble and we have the pick and roll, we've got a lot of ways to get easy offense."

Boozer missed the most recent meeting with an ankle injury as Toronto overcame Rose's 32 points for a surprising 118-113 victory Feb. 23 - one of only four losses for the Bulls since Feb. 9.

However, the Raptors have won only four times since that victory.

Toronto (20-54) has lost 12 of 16 since beating Chicago and is limping toward the finish of its disappointing season. The Raptors lost point guard Jose Calderon to a strained hamstring Wednesday during their fifth straight loss, 104-98 to visiting Milwaukee.

Calderon won't travel to Chicago and is doubtful for Sunday's game against Orlando, giving backup Jerryd Bayless an opportunity to earn more playing time as the starter.

Bayless is averaging 14.4 points and 7.4 assists in seven starts for the Raptors this season compared to 6.6 and 3.0 in 56 games coming off the bench, which includes 11 games with New Orleans. Bayless came over in a trade Nov. 20.

"You know you're going to play and you're going to play a lot freer," Bayless said after practice Friday. "It's just different. I've been happy here whether it's starting or coming off the bench but I think anybody's going to play a little bit better when they're starting."

Andrea Bargnani returned to the lineup and scored 22 points after missing last Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers with a right ankle injury. Bargnani, averaging a career-high 21.8 points this season, scored 24 in the most recent win against the Bulls.

DeMar DeRozan, who scored 20 points Wednesday against the Bucks, also added 24 in the victory over Chicago.

The Bulls can tie San Antonio atop the league with their 33rd home victory, but Toronto has had some recent success at the United Center. The Raptors have won five of the last seven meetings in Chicago.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Robin Lopez on when he knew he'd be suspended: 'When I threw a punch'

Robin Lopez on when he knew he'd be suspended: 'When I threw a punch'

Most NBA players have to let their adrenaline come down before the reality of what's coming next begins to hit them, but Robin Lopez had his moment of clarity at the oddest time during his altercation with Toronto's Serge Ibaka on Tuesday night.

When asked when he knew he would be serving at least a one-game suspension for his missed punch in the fourth quarter of their loss to the Raptors, Lopez said, "When I threw a punch."

The process from the NBA to Lopez was pretty straightforward, and Lopez called the one-game suspension "fair."

Ditching the caveman look for a clean shaven appearance at Friday morning's shootaround, Lopez seemed at ease with what happened and wasn't going to contest the one-game decision, especially since the NBA could've gone with two or three games as no precedent has been set for fighting this season.

"I mean, that's what the league gave. I'm going to stick with it," Lopez said, adding, "I didn't change my story."

The multiple camera angles would've made it impossible to believe a different recollection of the events had Lopez attempted to finagle himself out of the one-game suspension that stopped his 71-game starting streak with the Bulls this season.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

His matter-of-fact statement after an emotionally charged incident didn't hurt the Bulls. They beat the Pistons by 20 as Lopez was serving a banishment that ended his streak of 187 consecutive games played. But he was happy Joffrey Lauvergne got a chance to prove his worth.

Lauvergne had 17 points and seven rebounds Wednesday night, and he'll be behind Lopez against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night as Cristiano Felicio is recovering from a hard fall late in the Raptors game.

"He's very versatile. He's a playmaker, he can score from a lot of different spots on the floor. He's a really smart basketball player," Lopez said of Lauvergne. "I always want to be out there with the guys. But they took care of business and did their thing. So I was pleased to see them pick up the win."

Picking up two in a row shouldn't be a monumental task against the 76ers, though they are 3-3 in their last six games and the Bulls haven't won two in a row in nearly a month as their grip on a playoff spot has loosened.

For the moment, the Bulls sit ninth in the East, a full game behind the surging Miami Heat, with a 34-38 record. Teams with nothing to lose can be playoff spoilers, and the Bulls have lost more than their share of games to lesser teams this season.

"Those teams do play loose," Lopez said. "They kind of just go out there to play basketball, and that can be a bit dangerous. But we've got something to play for, so we've got to be more motivated. The Sixers especially, they play really well, they have a lot of energy. So we've got to go out there, we've got to play motivated."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Brian Hedger (nhl.com) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel.  The Bulls beat the Pistons in a game with huge playoff implication.  So could they actually make the postseason?

The Blackhawks are closing in one division title but what’s their biggest weakness?

Plus Theo Epstein’s a really great leader, Kyle Hendricks is going to have to wait a while to pitch plus DeShone Kizer loves the band “Chicago” but will he play here?