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Playoff berth now Bulls' to lose

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I like the titlte of John Jackson's article:

PHILADELPHIA -- Less than two weeks after a playoff berth appeared to be a fantasy, the Bulls posted a wire-to-wire 99-92 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night to grab hold of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls now have won four straight and six of seven to move a half-game ahead of the struggling Sixers -- losers of two straight and five of six -- in the battle for the final conference playoff spot.

But following arguably their biggest victory of the season, the Bulls were relatively calm. There was no big celebration or anything that would distinguish this game from any of their other wins this season.

"It's nice, but it doesn't feel like it's ours yet,'' guard Kirk Hinrich said of the playoff spot. "We're still fighting for it, and there's still so much up for grabs. We've got a big one again Saturday, and we have to get ready for that.''The Bulls (35-40) have seven remaining games, including four at home, while Philadelphia (34-40) has eight games left with three at home. The teams meet again Saturday night at the United Center.
There's a less dramatic headline in the Daily Herald:

Bulls move closer to playoffs with win

PHILADELPHIA — Bulls coach Scott Skiles struck a new theme before Wednesday night’s game against the 76ers: Extend the season for Lu.

While the Bulls ended a six-year string of missing the playoffs last season, rookie forward Luol Deng was sidelined with a wrist injury and could not participate.

“Last year against Washington we won the first two games, then were swept four straight with Games 5 and 6 going down to the wire,” Skiles said. “We feel like our guys learned from that. We want to get in again so we can learn some more.”

The playoffs are beginning to look like a good possibility. The Bulls leapfrogged past the slumping Sixers into eighth place with a 99-92 victory at the sparsely populated Wachovia Center.

If the season ended today, the Bulls (35-40) would face Detroit in the first round of the playoffs, but a rematch with Philadelphia awaits Saturday at the United Center.

It is difficult to imagine the Sixers (34-40) bouncing back strong, since they’ve lost 12 of their last 16 games. The Bulls, meanwhile, have won six of seven and trail seventh-place Indiana by 1¨ games and sixth-place Milwaukee by 2 games.

“Now we’re the hunted and they’re going to be coming after us,” Skiles said. “There’s nothing satisfying yet other than we’d rather win than lose this game. We’re going to focus on the team in front of us, which is Indiana, and try to move up.”

Deng did his part to see the light of postseason, scoring 14 points. Fellow forward and close friend Andres Nocioni helped the cause by posting his fifth consecutive double-double. Nocioni finished with 21 points and a season-high 13 rebounds. In the last five games, he has averaged 19.6 points and 11.4 boards.

It’s great for me, but it’s better for the team,” Nocioni said. “I want to win. I want to make the playoffs, because it’s important for us.”

“Everybody wants to play in the playoffs,” Deng said. “I haven’t experienced that yet. It’s something I really want to be a part of.”
And Mike wrote about:

Sweetney taking charge

PHILADELPHIA — Early in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s victory at Philadelphia, the whistle blew and every player on the Bulls bench jumped to his feet in celebration. Tyson Chandler even waved a towel to punctuate his enthusiasm.

What was it that caused the ruckus? Michael Sweetney blocked the path of Philadelphia’s John Salmons and drew a charging foul.

A running joke among the Bulls this season has been Sweetney’s admission that he’d never drawn a charge in his entire life. He got No. 1 last week at Boston by standing his ground against Wally Szczerbiak.

So now Sweetney has drawn 2 charges in the last six games and thinks it’s time to stop making a big deal out of it.

Yeah, I saw how excited they got,” he said. “They don’t have to do all that standing up, making a scene. But it’s cool. My teammates, we have fun.”
And Marlene in the Tribune:

Bulls grab 8th spot in East

Before making the trip to Chicago this weekend, the 76ers will try to get even with the Bulls in the standings when they play host to Boston on Friday night.

The Bulls have won four in a row for the first time since January, tying their longest winning streak of the season. Now they can look ahead to try to catch the Indiana Pacers, whom they beat Tuesday night and trail by 1½ games for the seventh seed.

Despite his troubles, Iverson scored a game-high 26 points to go with seven assists. But he also tied a season high with seven turnovers.

"Every time I drove to the basket I had three or four guys collapsing on me, and obviously it was a good game plan," Iverson said. "But I got us off to a bad start from the beginning of the game.

"The magnitude of the game and being in so many games like that—for me to be the one to act like I had never been in a game like that, it was unacceptable."

The Bulls opened by shooting nearly 61 percent in the first quarter and went up by 14 with Ben Gordon's 10 first-quarter points. This, despite Hinrich picking up two fouls less than two minutes into the game and hobbling off the court after getting hit in his left knee.

Hinrich went scoreless in about 6½ minutes in the first half but scored 14 in the second half to extend his streak of double-digit scoring games to 26.

Chris Duhon also picked up two fouls in the first quarter. Still, the Bulls went up by 17 early in the second. Contrary to the meltdowns that have been typical this season, they survived runs the 76ers put together the rest of the way.
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Found this column that compares the Bulls and 76ers a bit:

Playoffs won't cure 76ers' ills

It doesn't matter that the Sixers lost Wednesday and slipped out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. It doesn't matter that the Sixers' playoff chances are just about gone. Look at the big picture. The Sixers are a disaster whether they are the eight seed or not. Their future is a mess; and a one-and-done playoff appearance doesn't make it better.

The eighth seed is for a team like the Bulls -- a young, up-and-coming bunch making strides toward being an elite team. The Sixers have two of the top six highest-paid players in the NBA. They're built to win now, and they've got no shot at it.

If their young players were really coming on in support, that would be one thing. But the heavyweights on this team keep taking shots at them. After the Sixers lost to Detroit Mar. 29, Chris Webber questioned whether some of his teammates cared enough. Before Wednesday's game Sixers coach Mo Cheeks questioned whether some of his players were ready to play Tuesday in a must-win game in Cleveland. Each time, they were talking about the younger guys.

The Bulls have struggled this year, too, but they're building something here. Chicago has about the same record as the Sixers, and they're both shooting that final playoff spot -- but these teams are going in drastically different directions.

If you could take one of these rosters, which would you choose? You'd pick the Bulls, and it's not close. The Bulls are young and full of energy -- plus they have the Knicks' first draft pick this year and the right to the Knicks' first pick next year (because apparently Isiah Thomas is just giving those things away).

The Bulls can wage this fight for the eighth slot, and they might make it and they might not. But they're a team in ascension.

Bulls head coach Scott Skiles was asked the same question -- given your chances at the title (dismal), do the playoffs matter? What value is there in squeaking into the eighth seed?

Skiles looked at the questioner like he had three heads.

"We want in," Skiles said

The Bulls are playing like it, now and for the future. The Sixers, meanwhile, sputter and founder. And it's really hard to say what they want.
And a good David Aldridge piece:

Why fighting for berth in playoffs still matters

Ask the Bulls, who thought it would be easy to rebound from the end of the Michael Jordan era. A couple of draft picks, plenty of cap room, we'll have this rebuilt in a jiffy.

They were the worst team in the league for six consecutive years.

It took five more drafts for them to get enough good players to make the postseason last year. So Bulls coach Scott Skiles isn't thinking about the millions in salary cap room or what having the Knicks' first-round pick this summer might mean in the future.

"We want in," Skiles said before the game. "All of our young guys, those experiences, a coach can explain to you what it's all about, playing in the playoffs and all that. But until you get in and go through it, talking really doesn't mean anything. So we think it's important for our guys' development to go through those situations."

You may say, wait a minute, the Sixers are different. Allen Iverson and Chris Webber and Kevin Ollie have been in a hundred playoffs over the years. They can't learn anything new.

Maybe. But Andre Iguodala and Kyle Korver (who made a great defensive effort last night, blocking shots, taking charges, stepping in passing lanes) and Samuel Dalembert need all the postseason experience they can get. One year isn't enough. Two years aren't enough.

The urgency that Iverson said afterward some of his younger teammates may lack comes out best in the heat of the postseason, when everyone's on edge. These kids have to get as many tastes from the playoff bottle as they can.

Yes, they'd probably get slapped around by Detroit or Miami or Jersey. But there isn't a champion in this league over the last two decades that didn't get kicked in the teeth early in his playoff career.

The champions were the ones who got up and fought some more.
And one from the NW Herald:

Bulls show they belong in playoffs

Part of you wants to snicker at this all-out struggle the Bulls are waging with the Philadelphia 76ers.

You have two teams vying for the right to go up against Detroit or, at best, Miami in the first round of the playoffs.

It is a little bit like the two nerds in elementary school who decide to fight for the privilege of getting pummeled by the class bully during recess.

Whatever. One of these two teams has to get the honor, and the Bulls clearly are worthier of it.

They have begun to peak at the right time, while the 76ers have picked the wrong time to take their season-long underachieving to a new level.
The Bulls have flaws, but at least they work hard on the defensive end and share the ball offensively.

The 76ers do neither of those things, certainly not enough to be a competent team.

Philadelphia really could use a player such as Andres Nocioni, who has blossomed for the Bulls during the past month and recorded his fifth consecutive double-double Wednesday night.

Nocioni epitomizes what is right about this Bulls team – he is able to shine even in a secondary role.
Yeah, poor Sweets. Even Skiles ripped into him on Comcast during the postgame press conferences about that charge, and Stacey King followed that up by going "oh MAN, that is cold" or something to that effect. This is what we were talking about when we said Skiles needs to stop blindsiding his players, even if he thinks it's funny/humorous.
I'm not counting my chickens yet, but the fact that the Bulls are in the drivers seat for their playoff hopes (albeit by the slimmest of margins) has me happy this morning.
They have begun to peak at the right time, while the 76ers have picked the wrong time to take their season-long underachieving to a new level.
I see them as the opposite, over-achievers. If it weren't for Iverson, they'd be fighting against the Knicks for the worst record.
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