Despite playing a major portion of the season without the reigning MVP, the Chicago Bulls still escaped the regular season unscathed.
John Lucas III scored a career-high 25 points, Joakim Noah had 13 points and 13 rebounds and the Bulls clinched the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs with a 107-75 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.
With the No. 1 seed in the East already in hand and the playoffs beginning on Saturday, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took no chances in the regular season finale. He rested Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kyle Korver.
”We’ve been through a lot this year, a lot of adversity, a lot of guys being injured. We fought hard throughout. It was a tough season. A lot of games in a compressed season, but we put ourselves in the best position possible,” Noah said.
Chicago will host Philadelphia on Saturday.
Earlier in the week, 76ers forward Evan Turner said he preferred to face the Bulls as opposed to the Heat in the first round.
”Love it. We just have to give them what they ask for,” Bulls guard Richard Hamilton said.
Despite being short-handed, the Bulls controlled most of the game. They led 58-45 at halftime behind nine points and eight rebounds from Noah and Lucas’ nine points.
Carlos Boozer scored the first six points of the third quarter as Chicago extended the lead to 66-47.
The Bulls could have also clinched home-court advantage throughout the postseason with a Spurs’ loss to the Warriors, but didn’t need the help. Lucas’ three increased the lead with 3:53 to go and Jimmy Butler had tip to make it 99-69.
”Our team responded to every challenge,” Thibodeau said. ”We still have a long way to go. This is what you play for, to try to build all the right habits and give yourself the best chance to win in the playoffs. We are looking for the next challenge.”
Tristan Thompson scored 13 points for the Cavaliers, who lost four straight games to end the season, their second straight last-place finish in the Central Division.
Kyrie Irving, who had a late-season sprained right shoulder and is recovering from the flu, didn’t play. The Cavs also played without Omri Casspi, who was out with right knee tendinitis.
The Bulls outrebounded Cleveland 60-38.
”Well, the season is over. Now we can get down to real business (evaluating). I feel like we’re in a great position with a lot of flexibility,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said.
With the game well in hand, fans started chanting for Brian Scalabrine with eight minutes to go. He finally entered the game with 2:59 to a loud cheer. He made a jumper to a standing ovation with 25 seconds left.
Rose sat for the 27th time in 66 games this season. He’s missed games with a bad back, sore groin, sprained ankle and the latest a foot injury, but Thibodeau said Rose will be ready for the playoffs and he is encouraged how Hamilton has played after returning from a shoulder injury.
”I think Derrick has been better than he has in a while and Rip (Hamilton) has gotten his legs under him. We just have to be ready to,” said Thibodeau.
Antawn Jamison, who will become a free agent, scored 12 points in what likely will be his final game for Cleveland. The Cavs finished the season with a 21-45 record compared to last season’s 19-63 record.
It’s been a tough year,” said Jamison. ”After last year, we couldn’t do anything but get better.”