Chicago, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - Nikola Mirotic scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and the Chicago Bulls clinched a playoff berth with a 98-86 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.
Pau Gasol added 27 points and 12 rebounds to pick up his 47th double-double of the season for Chicago, which won for the third time in four games after a 1-5 stretch.
The Bulls gained a half-game on idle Cleveland for first place in the Central Division and now sit three games back. They moved within percentage points of idle Toronto for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Jimmy Butler scored 19 points in the win and Aaron Brooks had 13 points and 10 assists.
"We got a lot to look forward to," Butler said. "When we get all of our pieces back, we're pretty hard to beat."
Kemba Walker scored 29 points to lead the Hornets, who fell to 2-6 since a season high-tying five-game winning streak. They finished 1-4 on a five-game road trip and fell a half-game behind Boston for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Mo Williams added 15 points in the loss and Gerald Henderson scored 11.
"It's a lot of fun. It's wide," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said of the playoff race. "You play, and we have a good opportunity."
Gasol and Walker led their teams with 13 points each in the third quarter and the Bulls turned a one-point deficit into a seven-point lead with a 10-2 run led by Gasol and Brooks.
The Hornets cut it to three on Walker's 3-pointer with 7.9 seconds left but Gasol knocked down a long-range shot in the final second to give Chicago a 74-69 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Hornets were within four points before a quick 8-0 run by Chicago put the game out of reach. The flurry was keyed by Mirotic's 3 from the high left side and punctuated by his three-point play off a driving layup with 1:27 left.
Earlier, Gasol scored 12 points in the first quarter for Chicago to lead all players and the Bulls carried a 28-26 edge into the second. Williams had 10 points for the Hornets in the second quarter and Walker's layup in the final seconds gave them a 49-48 lead at halftime.
Gasol had four blocked shots ... The Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-16 in the paint ... Chicago was just 3-for-16 on 3-pointers but outshot Charlotte 45.1 percent to 34.6 percent overall ... The Bulls snapped a two-game losing streak to the Hornets to split the season series 2-2 ... Chicago goes on the road to play Toronto on Wednesday ... Charlotte hosts Brooklyn on Thursday.