Bulls jockey for playoff positioning vs. 76ers
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Bulls hope to lock down the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference at some point and are back home to host the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday at the United Center.
The Toronto Raptors pulled even with the Bulls for the third spot in the Eastern Conference with a two-point road win over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.
The Bulls went 1-2 on their trip through Cleveland, Orlando and Miami.
Chicago lost to both the Cavs and Magic before salvaging the trip with Thursday's 89-78 victory over the Miami Heat. The Bulls took a commanding lead by outscoring the Heat, 33-8, in the third quarter and were led by Pau Gasol's NBA-leading 51st double-double of 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Taj Gibson posted 14 points and 12 boards off the bench, Aaron Brooks also had 14 points in a reserve role and both Mike Dunleavy and Derrick Rose scored 12 points for the Bulls, who prevailed despite shooting poorly at 39 percent. Bulls players not named Gibson missed a combined 17 shots in the second quarter, but there was a big turnaround in the third stanza.
"It was embarrassing," Bulls forward Joakim Noah said of the 12-point second period. "We were getting out-competed."
The Bulls had a 51-46 advantage on the glass and won for the seventh time in the last 11 tries. Jimmy Butler did not play because of a calf injury and is questionable versus the Sixers. Butler leads the Bulls with 20.1 ppg.
Noah has 773 career blocks and needs two to pass Scottie Pippen (774 blocks with Bulls) for second in franchise history. Michael Jordan leads the Bulls with 828 career blocks.
Chicago looks to extend its home winning streak to six games Saturday and is 25-14 at the United Center. It will visit Brooklyn on Monday before closing out the regular season Wednesday versus Atlanta.
The 76ers had two days off to think about their seventh loss in a row, a 119-90 drubbing at the hands of the Washington Wizards Wednesday night. The Wizards sizzled from the floor to the tune of 65 percent and had seven players finish with more than 10 points.
Philadelphia had only three players in double figures, as Robert Covington pumped in 27 points and made 4-of-6 3-pointers. Veteran Jason Richardson scored 17 points off the bench and Thomas Robinson provided 11 and 12 rebounds in a reserve role.
"We started the game so poorly. We subbed our first group out quickly, try to find some life," 76ers coach Brett Brown said.
Nerlens Noel had five points and eight boards in 24 minutes before suffering an ankle injury, and is expected to miss Saturday's game.
The Sixers, who are in the race for ping-pong balls in the lottery draft, have lost four straight and 20 of their last 21 road games, and have a 6-34 mark as the guest this season.
Philadelphia will close the season with home games versus Milwaukee and Miami.
Chicago has beaten Philly twice this season - both in the City of Brotherly Love - and is unbeaten in the previous five encounters. The Bulls are 8-1 in the last nine games in this series and have won five straight versus the Sixers at the United Center, including the playoffs.