Bulls-Bobcats Preview

In the midst of a bizarre off-the-court distraction, the Chicago

Bulls are simply focused on winning just one more game.

The Bulls look to secure a second straight playoff berth with a

victory in Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against a

Charlotte Bobcats team that is already locked into the Eastern

Conference’s seventh seed.

A playoff berth seemed highly unlikely for Chicago as it endured

a 10-game losing streak Feb. 27-March 19, but the team has rallied

to win nine of 13 since to take a one-game lead over Toronto for

the East’s final playoff spot.

The Bulls (40-41) will make the playoffs for the fifth time in

six years with a victory over the Bobcats, but can also make the

postseason if the Raptors, who own the tiebreaker, lose at home to

New York on Wednesday.

Chicago pulled ahead of Toronto with an impressive 104-88

victory at Air Canada Centre on Sunday, and followed that up with

Tuesday’s 101-93 win over Boston. Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich

carried the Bulls over the Celtics with Rose scoring a career-high

39 points and Hinrich adding a season-best 30.

Thursday’s victory was somewhat overshadowed, though, by some

potentially distracting news.

Yahoo! Sports, citing sources, reported executive vice president

of basketball operations John Paxson shoved coach Vinny Del Negro

twice in the chest and had to be restrained in a confrontation over

Joakim Noah’s minutes after the March 30 home game against Phoenix.

Noah was sidelined for the entire 10-game skid because of plantar

fasciitis and has seen his playing time increase since his

return.

“I’m not going to comment,” Del Negro said. “I go about my job

everyday no matter what happens. I’m a competitor. I’ve been

involved in the game a long time. I love the challenge of it. All

the other things that happen pretty much stay internally.”

Noah, who is averaging 13.2 points and 14.3 boards in his last

six games, doesn’t want to see this become a distraction for the

team.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Noah said. “Things happen in

an organization. … I don’t think it’s fair for us as players to

be talking about that stuff. It’s nothing. Really, it’s

nothing.”

The Bulls have won two of three over the Bobcats this season,

but lost the lone meeting in Charlotte, 113-108 on Jan. 5. These

teams met just over a week ago, with Chicago winning 96-88 at the

United Center on April 3 behind 26 points from Rose and 24 from

Hinrich.

Unlike Chicago, the Bobcats (44-37) have little to play for, as

they prepare for the first playoff appearance in the franchise’s

six-year history.

With Charlotte’s 105-95 win over New Jersey, coupled with

Miami’s victory over Philadelphia, the Bobcats were cemented into

the No. 7 playoff spot. In the first round of the playoffs this

weekend, Charlotte will meet defending conference champion Orlando,

which won the season series 3-1.

Although this game means nothing for Charlotte, coach Larry

Brown isn’t planning on resting his regulars.

“It will be a meaningful game for Chicago, so we’re going to

have to go out and try to win. It wouldn’t be right just to go out

and play,” Brown told the Bobcats’ official Web site. “Hopefully we

don’t play (the first game of the first round) until Sunday – I

don’t know what the schedule is, but that would give us the

opportunity to rest some people then.”

Brown, however, may decide to give forward Gerald Wallace

another day off so he can rest his bruised left shoulder for the

playoffs.

Wallace, who sat out against the Nets, had 32 points and nine

boards in Charlotte’s lone win over the Bulls this season.