Published May 02, 2016
(SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the Eastern Conference's elite close out the regular season Wednesday when the Atlanta Hawks travel to the United Center to meet the Chicago Bulls, but the game only means something to one of the teams.
The Hawks wrapped up homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs weeks ago, but the Bulls are playing for the third seed. If they win on Wednesday, and the Toronto Raptors lose at home to the Charlotte Hornets, they'll secure the third spot.
Despite a one-game lead over the Raptors, any other scenario and the Bulls fall to fourth. Toronto owns the tiebreaker over Chicago by virtue of winning the Atlantic Division.
The Bulls have won three in a row and six straight in the Windy City.
On Monday, Chicago handed the Brooklyn Nets a critical loss in Brooklyn's postseason push. The Bulls prevailed, 113-86, thanks to another double-double by Pau Gasol.
The big man, who signed as a free-agent in the offseason, recorded his league- leading 53rd double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Nikola Mirotic had a game-high 26 points in 24 minutes off the bench for the Bulls, who also benefited from 13 points out of Derrick Rose.
"Overall, we played well on both sides of the ball," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "We had great ball movement."
Starting center Joakim Noah missed the game with a left hamstring injury and he is listed as doubtful for Wednesday.
The Hawks have been fine-tuning things for a postseason run. They established a franchise record for wins in a season and have rested key pieces down the stretch.
All of the starters, minus Paul Millsap, who is battling a shoulder injury, were in the lineup Monday night when the Hawks fell at home to the New York Knicks of all teams, 112-108.
Jeff Teague finished with 19 points and nine assists for Atlanta, but missed a potential game-tying shot with 9.3 seconds remaining.
Kyle Korver also had 19 points for the Hawks, followed by 18 from Al Horford, 16 out of DeMarre Carroll, 12 from Shelvin Mack and 10 from Kent Bazemore.
It was an interesting loss for a team with legitimate title aspirations, but no one was sweating in Atlanta.
"I think we've put ourselves in a good position throughout the course of the season. A lot of positives, so we're excited (for the playoffs)," said Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer.
Of course, if the Bulls drop to four and both teams are successful in first- round matchups, Wednesday's contest could be a preview for a second-round matchup.
The Hawks will go for their first season sweep of the Bulls since the 2008-09 season.