NEW YORK — The Chicago Bulls are surging back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture just in time to face a favorable schedule.
Chicago will play the first of its five remaining games against non-playoff teams Tuesday night when it visits the New York Knicks.
The Bulls (38-39) are on a four-game winning streak and are 7-4 in their last 11 games since dropping five straight from March 4-12. The surge has moved the Bulls into seventh place in the East and two games behind the fifth-place Milwaukee Bucks.
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After facing the Knicks, Chicago visits Philadelphia and Brooklyn before returning for home games against Orlando and Brooklyn.
“We just continue to talk about this with our team — we’ll just worry about ourselves,” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg. “Every day we have to get in the gym, get in the film room, continue to learn and continue to make positive strides forward as a basketball team.”
Jimmy Butler is coming off two straight 30-plus point performances. He was named Player of the Week in the Eastern Conference on Monday. He averaged 32.5 points (second in the East) and 6.0 assists in three games.
In Sunday’s 117-110 win at New Orleans, Butler scored 25 of his game-high 39 points in the first half and logging a team-high 39 minutes. He did so after scoring 25 points in the second half of a two-point win over Atlanta on Saturday.
“Yeah, I’m dialed in,” Butler said. “I think I’m rolling and playing well and doing what my team needs me to do, and we’re winning, so at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Chicago is peaking at the right time.
Rajon Rondo has performed well since filling in for Dwyane Wade, who is out with a dislocated elbow. In the nine games without Wade, he is averaging 11.6 points, 8.4 assists and 6.1 rebounds. The Bulls are averaging 108.6 points in Wade’s absence, compared to 101.8 points before his injury.
The Knicks (29-48) will be playing their third game since officially being eliminated from postseason contention Wednesday. The Knicks are coming off an 110-94 loss to the Boston Celtics Sunday.
Carmelo Anthony did not play as he missed a second straight game with a sore back. He plans to return Tuesday but spent Monday talking about his future, which might with another team after he meets with management next week.
“The chips will be on the table,” Anthony told reporters Monday. “The chips will be on the table in that meeting. I mean I don’t know what to expect but I’ve got a good feeling. Chips will be on the table.”
The Knicks will be without former Bulls Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah
Rose was shut down last week after finding out he needs surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He averaged 18 points and 4.4 assists in 64 games, two less than he played last season with the Bulls, who traded him in June for Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant.
“I feel bad for him (Rose),” Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “I know hard he worked throughout the season to maintain the shape that he has and makes sure he avoids all those injuries as much as he can. To see that happen to him right now at the end of the season is tough.
Noah, a free agent signing, was more of a disappointment and is serving the fourth contest of a 20-game suspension for using a banned substance. The New York City native couldn’t stay healthy, appearing in only 46 games, averaging five points and 8.7 rebounds.
Rose and Noah were in the starting lineup together for just 39 games and none since Jan. 27.
Since the 2000-01 season, the Knicks have won just one playoff series, which is tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for the fewest among any NBA franchise.
New York has won the first two meetings with Chicago. The Knicks recorded a 117-104 win in Chicago on Nov. 4 and posted a 104-89 win Jan. 12 in New York.