The Chicago Bulls will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but their opponent – and which side of the Eastern Conference bracket they’ll be placed – remains to be determined.
Chicago looks to inch closer to securing the East’s No. 3 seed while adding another defeat to the Orlando Magic’s dismal road record Monday night.
The Bulls (47-33) are tied with Toronto for third, but the Raptors hold the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the Atlantic Division. Chicago would have to win this contest and Wednesday’s finale against Charlotte, while Toronto would have to drop one of its final two in order for the Bulls to finish with the third seed.
A win in either contest combined with two Raptors losses also would clinch it.
Chicago had its seven-game winning streak snapped Sunday in a 100-89 loss to New York and missed a chance to pull a game ahead of the Raptors.
"Defensively, we weren’t very good," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I thought we made some good plays down the stretch and we missed some wide-open 3s that you live with."
Joakim Noah had another solid performance with 13 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists, but the Bulls finished just 6 of 22 from 3-point range.
"We let a big game slip. It was probably the biggest game of the season," Noah said. "Disappointing the way our mentality wasn’t good, but overall we just won’t have time, just got to let this one go, get ready tomorrow."
Noah finished with 26 points and 19 rebounds in a 128-125 overtime win Jan. 15 in the last matchup with Orlando. Victor Oladipo, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2013, scored a career-high 35 points in that contest for a Magic team that will be picking in the lottery for the second straight year.
Orlando (23-57) has dropped two straight and fell to 4-36 on the road with Sunday’s 97-88 loss to Brooklyn. Tobias Harries came off the bench to score 18 points, while Oladipo added 14.
"Any time we lose, whether it is on the road or at home, it bothers me," Harris said. "We’re not in the playoffs, but I’m just going out there and playing my heart out like it’s my last game."
Orlando won the other meeting in Chicago 83-82 on Dec. 16, though it has lost 25 of 26 on the road since that contest. The Magic led 59-55 with seven minutes left in the third quarter, but the Nets went on a 15-0 run and put the game away.
"(The road record) doesn’t bother us. We just have to come out and play the same way we do (at home)," said forward Kyle O’Quinn, who had 10 points. "Things just didn’t bounce our way."
Center Nikola Vucevic tested his sore left Achilles prior to Sunday’s contest, but he said the training staff decided he shouldn’t play. He’s missed the last six, and he’s likely to sit out the final two as well.
Orlando has lost 10 of the last 12 meetings with the Bulls, though both wins in that stretch have come in Chicago.