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Is tonight a preview of a first round playoff matchup with the Celtics or simply a trial run in a roadie playoff atmosphere for the young Bulls?

Have the Celtics re-focused after their worse loss of the season or are they looking past the Bulls towards the Pistons tomorrow? Tonights game could also go towards deciding homecourt advantage in a Bulls-Celtics matchup and the Celtics know it.

Skiles wants to make this a statement game, but the Bulls will have to do it without Hinrich. The Celtics will likely want to make a statement of their own.

Can the Bulls win this one? There will be no sneaking up on the Celtics. There will be no knocking the Celtics back to reality with the Knicks already beating us to the punch. We face a team that just got a wakeup call that the season isn't over just yet and they have more work to do. We face much more in the backcourt than what Toronto could offer in Payton, Pierce and Davis.

Each game has the possibility that it carries more weight than the last as we move towards our first playoff birth in . . . . . the 21st century. This game is BIG. We're approaching it like a playoff game. Will we look like the scrappy, determined, coming-of-age club or will we look like deer in the headlights?

On a side note, the last highly anticipated BIG game was against the Sonics at home. We all know what the refs did with that game and what an abomination it was to watch. The Celtics are coming off a first half in NY where they notched 7 T's and 1 flagrant in the first half. Will the refs and Celtics kiss and make up tonight?

They have a possible playoff preview tonight against the Bulls at the StillCalledTheFleetCenter and Rivers wants to see more -- and hear a lot less -- than what he saw and heard in Madison Square Garden.

"It's a great lesson for our basketball team," Rivers said. "I don't think it's the worst thing in the world that could have happened. The next game, we'll see who we are."

Tonight's game is full of subplots. Right now, the Bulls are tied for fifth in the East, which means they are a possible first-round playoff opponent for the third-seeded Celtics. And Chicago, which has won three straight (two on the road), is just two games behind No. 4 Washington (which beat Utah last night), and one loss astern of the Celtics in the loss column.

There's also the battle for the Sixth Man Award, with the Bulls' Ben Gordon and the Celtics' Ricky Davis. Rivers said Tuesday he'd like to see Gordon get Rookie of the Year and Davis receive the Sixth Man. Davis is the leading scorer among Sixth Man candidates, although he had a hideous game in New York (6 points on 2-of-10 shooting and a technical). Gordon has gone for 10 or more points in the fourth quarter on 19 occasions this season, a league high. Kobe Bryant is next with 17.

There are Rivers and Scott Skiles, both of whom have worked with Danny Ainge and both of whom might get some consideration for Coach of the Year.

The Celtics and Bulls met three times in three weeks in January, with the Celtics taking two, including a come-from-behind 101-97 victory in the United Center Jan. 29. In the lone meeting in Boston, Al Jefferson erupted for 17 points, his season high, as the Celtics snapped a seven-game Chicago winning streak. . . .

The Bulls also have won at least once in Boston in each of the last two seasons . . . Tonight's game is the first of a tough back-to-back for the Celtics, who travel to Detroit for a matchup tomorrow night against the Pistons.
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