Bulls 104, Raptors 88
A message in the Chicago locker room read: ``How bad do we want it?'' The way Joakim Noah played, it was easy to tell.
Derrick Rose scored 26 points, Noah had 18 points, 19 rebounds and matched a career-high with seven assists and the Bulls beat Toronto 104-88 on Sunday night to take a one-game lead over the Raptors for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
``I knew it was a really important game, I was really focussed,'' Noah said. ``I just wanted to go out there and impose my will as much as I could, just be aggressive offensively and defensively. It was a huge win and I just wanted to make sure that our team played harder than their team.''
Luol Deng scored 14 points, Taj Gibson had 11 and Ronald Murray and Hakim Warrick each scored 10 points for the Bulls, who led by 25 points.
Chicago has won eight of 12 since Noah returned from a foot injury that forced him to miss 10 games. The Bulls went 0-10 without him.
``He's a guy who's always energetic, always yelling and talking,'' Rose said. ``He's always energy while he's out there and you want to do the same when you see him do all that stuff.''
The win helped Chicago forget the misery of Friday's double overtime defeat at New Jersey, their second loss to the Nets this season.
``It's been up and down but as long as it's up, we've just got to keep it up here,'' Rose said. ``We've got two games left and we've got to play every game like it's our last.''
Sonny Weems and Andrea Bargnani each scored 18 points for the injury-riddled Raptors, who lost their fifth straight. Hedo Turkoglu had a career-high 19 rebounds and nine assists but shot 2 for 12 and scored just six points.
``They were better than us, obviously,'' Raptors coach Jay Triano said. ``They shot the ball much better.''
Jarrett Jack had 14 points but was the only Raptors reserve to score until Marcus Banks converted a layup with 5:20 left in the fourth.
The Bulls can clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with a win and a Toronto loss, or by winning their two remaining games. The Raptors hold the tiebreaker over the Bulls after winning the first two matchups this season.
``We haven't done nothing yet,'' Rose said in a rowdy Bulls locker room. ``We've still got two games to play.''
Chicago hosts Boston on Tuesday and travels to Charlotte on Wednesday for its season finale. Toronto is at Detroit on Monday and finishes at home to New York on Wednesday.
``We've still got a long way to go,'' Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. ``We've got to refocus and get our energy back for Tuesday. Every game is like a playoff game for us. This was just one step in the right direction but there's still a lot of things to handle.
``We know what we have to do,'' Del Negro added. ``It's not going to be easy but we've put ourselves in this situation and now we've got to handle it. Tonight was a good step for us.''
Noah wasn't complaining about having to face the Celtics in a potential playoff clincher.
``It's good that we have Boston coming up,'' Noah said. ``That's an easy game to get up for. If we were playing in front of (a crowd of) 2,000 in New Jersey, it's a different situation. We understand what's at stake.''
Toronto's playoff hopes look bleak, but Weems wasn't about to concede.
``We have to dig in,'' Weems said. ``We still have a chance. If some players on the team are giving up, they shouldn't be here.''
Raptors forward Amir Johnson made his second straight start in place of Chris Bosh, who is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season after surgery last week to repair a broken nose. Bosh was released from hospital Friday and had the post-surgical packing removed from his nose Sunday, but has not rejoined the team.
Turkoglu started for Antoine Wright, who left Friday's loss at Atlanta with a sore left ankle and is still walking with crutches. Turkoglu also injured his nose when he was headbutted by Boston's Tony Allen last Wednesday. Turkoglu wore a protective face mask on Friday but did not wear one Sunday.
NOTES: The Bulls outrebounded the Raptors 49-41. ... Toronto had won the past five meetings. ... Noah's career high in rebounds is 21, done three times. ... Toronto shot 6 for 25 in the third.