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A good headline for Brian Hanley's story in the Sun-Times:

Bulls ready for some pickup games

If the Bulls make the playoffs, their road to the postseason won't be named Easy Street.

The Bulls, who host the Indiana Pacers tonight, have nine games left to overtake the Philadelphia 76ers, who are ahead by 1-1/2 games in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.

"This is another great experience,'' said coach Scott Skiles, whose Bulls (33-40) have won four of their last five games. "Last year, we just sort of flew in at the end with a 13-4 [run] and had home-court [advantage]. This is a little bit different. We're fighting right now against tough opponents in big games.

"It's great for our guys to play in these kinds of games and see what they can do. And the players can see what they can do.''

If the Bulls win tonight, they still will have a chance to overtake the Pacers, who lead the Bulls by 2-1/2 games for the seventh seed. Tonight's game precedes two straight against the 76ers.
And Deng on Noch:

Andres Nocioni enters tonight's game on a roll with three consecutive double-doubles. Luol Deng -- one of Nocioni's closest teammates, figuratively and literally, because they're next-door neighbors -- has seen a change in his Argentine friend in his second NBA season.

"He's a lot more comfortable,'' Deng said. "Last year, just with the language and being in a new country and all, it can set you back a little bit. Now in practice, he's got jokes for everybody and he's just being himself. It's helping him a lot on the court to just play his game and be who he is.

"And he's creating a lot of mismatches. He's driving the ball and getting out on the break. A lot of guys guarding him can't really keep up with him.''
Mike McGraw in the Daily Herald:

Bulls plan to keep playoff hopes alive

The Bulls picked a good year to be bad.

Granted, they’re not rebuilding-era bad. There were seasons when reaching 20 wins was cause for celebration.

It’s just that less than two weeks ago, the Bulls were 10 games under .500 and here they are with a great opportunity to climb back into playoff position this week.

The Bulls (33-40) host Indiana tonight, play at Philadelphia on Wednesday, then welcome the 76ers on Saturday. The Bulls trail eighth-place Philadelphia by 1¨ games and seventh-place Indiana by 2¨ games.

“The whole playoff race can change this week, and we have the ability to do something about that,” Chris Duhon said Monday at the Berto Center. “These next three games are very important.”

It’s not unusual for an NBA team with a losing record to qualify for the playoffs. Boston did it two years ago at 36-46. In 1985-86, when just seven teams were kept out of the postseason, the Bulls made it with a 30-52 mark.

So coach Scott Skiles is not about to apologize for the team’s position, or even concede a losing record, for that matter.

“I don’t consider us a 10-game-under-.500 team,” Skiles said. “I’ve said it many times, I would never bet against these guys.

“As I stand here right now, I don’t see why we have to lose another game. That’s the way I always think. These guys have surprised me before, and they’re working real hard right now. So I’m comfortable with where we’re at.”
Marlen Garcia with a variation of the morning theme:

Skiles' lineup changes working

Despite Ben Gordon's sagging shooting percentage, the Bulls have lost only once in their last five games. Perhaps it's a credit to the lineup switches made by coach Scott Skiles 10 days ago.

Skiles has Gordon coming off the bench, having replaced him in the starting lineup with Chris Duhon. Additionally, Andres Nocioni has replaced Tyson Chandler, pushing Michael Sweetney from power forward to the starting center spot to complement regulars Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng.
Nocioni has been on a roll with three straight double-doubles. Among the Bulls who play significant minutes, he leads in field-goal percentage at 46 percent and is second to Gordon in three-point percentage at 40 percent. So it's not all that surprising that he totaled 50 points in two games last week.

It is his rebounding that has markedly improved. For the season, he's averaging 5.5 rebounds per game, but in his last three games he has averaged 10.7.

He is notably undersized as a power forward at 6 feet 7 inches, but he is quicker than some bigger forwards.
The Bulls are closing in not only on the 76ers but also on the Pacers for a playoff berth. Indiana is the No. 7 seed in the East but on the decline with a four-game losing streak.

The Bulls are 21/2 games behind them and 11/2 behind the eighth-place 76ers, whom they play Wednesday in Philadelphia and Saturday in Chicago.

"We want to get in [the playoffs], wherever it is," Skiles said. "I know Indiana's had their struggles recently, but I don't really see them limping into the finish. They have too many good players. They've had so many injuries this year."

Said Duhon: "The whole playoff race can change during this week. We have the ability to do something about that."
And Southtown Paul's offering:

Bulls thinking about playoff position

I know Indiana has had their struggles recently, but I don't really see them limping to the finish," head coach Scott Skiles said after what he called a "sharp" workout. "They have too many good players. But they've had so many injuries this season. They've had a difficult season in regard to that."

If the Bulls vault past either the 76ers or the Pacers into the No. 8 position, then the Detroit Pistons would be their opponents in Round 1.

If the Bulls bypassed the 76ers and the Pacers to finish in the No. 7 spot, they would secure a playoff date with the Miami Heat in the first round.

Of the two potential opponents, the majority of players consider the Heat to be the more favorable match-up at this time.

The opinion is based largely on the iffy physical condition of star center Shaquille O'Neal, whose chronic knee problem flared up again in recent days.

What's more, O'Neal has a history of injuries, ejections and subpar performances at the United Center in his career.

"We match up pretty good against Detroit," guard Ben Gordon said. "I mean, we compete in those games. But if you ask me which team we have a better chance to beat in a series, I say Miami probably."

"He's right about that," Deng said. "We've played Miami better this year. The Heat have tried to get it together with different pieces the whole year, while Detroit is more like a college team that has been together for years."
And the Northwest Herald's Nick Hut weighs in:

Bulls can make strides toward playoffs tonight

DEERFIELD – Not even the Bulls' longest-tenured player can say he has been in this situation before.

"This is a first for me," center Tyson Chandler said.

The Bulls, for better or worse, never had to struggle for a playoff spot in Chandler's first four seasons.

They practically were eliminated by the all-star break during the first three of those seasons, and unexpectedly cruised into the playoffs in 2005.

"Last year was the best situation," Chandler said. "This is still fun, a lot more fun than some of those other years. You're on edge for every game because they all mean so much.

"Last year we were fighting hard [down the stretch] because we wanted to get home-court [advantage] for our first-round series. This is even bigger. If we don't win enough of these games, we're done."

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another item to file under "the week ahead"

RAPPER NELLY and Philadelphia 76ers' star Allen Iverson will be here Friday at the Chromium Nightclub to host a birthday party for top promoter Charles Edwards of World World Entertainment.

PLEASE stay out late partying it up Allen, you go ahead and get your drink on! :smilewink

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mizenkay said:
another item to file under "the week ahead"

RAPPER NELLY and Philadelphia 76ers' star Allen Iverson will be here Friday at the Chromium Nightclub to host a birthday party for top promoter Charles Edwards of World World Entertainment.

PLEASE stay out late partying it up Allen, you go ahead and get your drink on! :smilewink

Come on Miz and Narek, show up at the party and buy a few extra rounds for AI. it's for the sake of theam and the playoffs..........Isiah Thomas would - lol
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