Bulls 102, Magic 84

The fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs is still

within the Chicago Bulls’ sights.

Carlos Boozer scored 22 points, Luol Deng added 18 and the

Chicago Bulls snapped a two-game losing streak with a 102-84

victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.

Now with just one game left on their regular-season slate, the

Bulls still can catch Atlanta for the fifth seed in the Eastern

Conference. They need the Hawks to either split or lose their final

two games to move from sixth up to fifth.

It would be a small victory at the end of a tough year, but is

an opportunity they don’t want to take for granted, either.

”We’ve got one more, and then it really starts,” center Joakim

Noah said. ”I’m just happy that my foot held up. … I think we’re

a pretty deep team. We just need to play together and get our

chemistry right. The last game is important.

”It’s that time of year, so it’s exciting.”

Tobias Harris led Orlando with 20 points, followed by Nik

Vucevic with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Maurice Harkless also

chipped in 16 points.

The Magic finish just 12-29 at home, their fewest victories in

Orlando since they were 11-30 during the 2003-04 season. Orlando

wraps up its schedule Wednesday in Miami. Charlotte beat New York

on Monday night, leaving the Bobcats tied with the Magic for the

league’s worst record.

”It shows us how much better we have to get, how much harder we

have to play,” Harkless said. ”You know we’re a young team. We’ve

got to learn how tough it is playing against these playoff teams.

Hopefully in the future we’ll be a playoff team.”

Though he’s shrugged off questions lately about his team’s

playoff preparations, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau did manage to get

both Noah and Taj Gibson some work Monday after each had played

sparingly down the stretch.

Neither started the game, but Noah (right foot) was back on the

court for just the second time in 14 games and Taj Gibson (left

knee) played for the first time in eight games.

Richard Hamilton also returned to action after serving a

one-game suspension for hitting Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan with an

elbow last week.

”You have to make the best of whatever your circumstances

are,” Thibodeau said. ”Having so many guys out, and then some

guys resting down the stretch, gave our guys an opportunity to

grow.”

The Bulls started slow, but outscored the Magic 28-14 in the

second quarter to take a 12-point edge into the break.

Deng and Boozer did most of the early offensive lifting,

combining for 26 points in the half.

”We’re a team that has people on this team for certain reasons

and that’s why our team works,” Boozer said. ”It’s like having a

car that’s missing a couple of pieces. It ain’t going to run as

smooth. But once we’ve got everybody back out there, once you’ve

got the parts on the car, it runs pretty good.”

The Magic had just three turnovers in the first quarter. They

gave it away six times in the second quarter, leading to 10 Chicago

points.

Chicago maintained its momentum as the lead quickly ballooned

above 20 in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Orlando tried

to make a few pushes, but never really threatened in the final 12

minutes.

For the night, the Magic tallied just 16 assists on their 31

field goals.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said down year or not, he doesn’t

expect his team to be down entering Wednesday’s finale.

”Just the same approach that we’ve had the entire year really,

of going into the game and doing the best we can,” he said.

”We’re going to Miami and we’re going to try to get a win.”

Whether Derrick Rose makes a surprise return for the postseason

is still to be determined. For now, though, all the focus is on

improving the pieces the Bulls know they will have available.

”We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re fighters and we’re excited

for the challenge,” Noah said.

Notes: Vucevic’s double-double was his 45th of the season. …

Having spent time in Boston during his stint as a Celtics

assistant, Thibodeau said it made Monday’s events tough to watch

from afar now. ”There’s so much going on and the entire meaning of

that day – it’s so festive. It’s unfathomable just to think about

something like that happening there,” he said. ”It’s just a

terrible day. Terrible.”… Thibodeau said a lack of recent

practice time for his team hasn’t slowed down Rose’s rehab

schedule. ”That’s the important thing and he’s going to continue

to do so,” he said. ”So if we’re not practicing, he’s still doing

all his rehab stuff and he’s working each and every day.”

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