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.