CHICAGO — The implications are simple for Jimmy Butler and his Chicago Bulls teammates.
Option 1: Beat a short-handed Brooklyn Nets team that plans to sit six players on Wednesday night and advance to the playoffs.
Option 2: Lose to the Nets and risk missing the playoffs.
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Take your best guess as to Butler’s goal for the final game of the regular season.
“Win at all costs, no matter how it looks,” said Butler, who leads the Bulls in scoring at 23.9 points per game. “At the end of the game, we’ve got to have more points than the Brooklyn Nets.
“I just want everybody to lock in and realize how important this game is. We’re not counting on anybody else. We control our own destiny.”
Chicago (40-41) can give second-year coach Fred Hoiberg his first playoff appearance by beating the Nets (20-61). Brooklyn has the worst record in the NBA but is coming off a 107-106 win over the Bulls on Saturday evening.
Entering the regular-season finale, the Bulls are in a three-team race with the Indiana Pacers (41-40) and the Miami Heat (40-41) for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers have the inside track, but the Bulls own the tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same record. The Pacers finish the season against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
The Heat enter Wednesday on the outside looking in. But, if the Heat beat the Washington Wizards and the Bulls lose to the Nets, the Heat will nudge in front of the Bulls.
Hoiberg said he expected his team to embrace the pressure. The Bulls could land the No. 7 seed, No. 8 seed or miss the playoffs entirely, depending on Wednesday’s outcomes.
“The mood is good,” Hoiberg told the Chicago Sun-Times. “You have to play your game. You can’t play tight. We have to do what has made us a successful team. We’ve won six of eight. We need to do the things that have helped us along the stretch.”
The Bulls could be without veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, who has missed the past three games because of a sprained right wrist despite participating in the shootaround. Rondo’s absence has created additional playing time for Jerian Grant, who posted a double-double (17 points and 11 assists) on Monday night against the Orlando Magic.
Shooting guard Dwyane Wade is expected to play in his third straight game since missing more than three weeks because of a fracture in his right elbow. Wade appeared in 166 playoff games with the Heat and is seeking his first postseason run with his hometown team.
For the Nets, the game offers an opportunity to play the role of spoiler and finish a difficult season with a win.
The Nets announced Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez will sit out due to rest, while injuries will sideline Quincy Acy (ankle), Joe Harris (shoulder) and Sean Kilpatrick (hamstring).
Lopez leads Brooklyn with 20.5 points per game, but he will sit out and not pose a challenge for twin brother Robin, who starts at center for the Bulls.
Lin, who is averaging 14.5 points and 5.1 assists, said he has high hopes for the Nets heading into next season. Brooklyn has won four of its past six games.
“We knew that we didn’t have the initial respect of everybody coming in,” Lin told Newsday. “Unfortunately, the record shows we didn’t disprove that. But that’s all right. The progress and improvement is what we see in the locker room. We’re finishing strong.”
Hoiberg insisted he is focused on his team’s preparation for the game as opposed to Brooklyn’s plan to sit six of its players.
“I know they addressed it at the owners meetings,” Hoiberg said, in reference to the NBA Board of Governors meeting last week. “I don’t know what came of that conversation. It’s obviously different dynamics, some teams getting ready for the playoffs and resting players, some teams are going into the summer making sure they’re healthy with their rosters. I’ll be as interested as anybody to see how these talks progress as far as how teams go about resting their players. They talk about the national television games, how important that is for the brand. I know there’s going to be a lot of talks this summer, we’ll see how that plays out.
“You have to go out and worry about your team. That’s the approach we’ve tried to take here, especially these last couple of weeks when we’ve been fighting for the postseason. So we’re going to do that, and hopefully get off to a good start and play well.”