There's a good reason ESPN hyped Wednesday's Miami-Indiana game so thoroughly.
Not only is there a considerable distance between those teams and third place in the Eastern Conference, the game delivered all the hard hits and drama expected.
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The network announced it was the second-highest viewed NBA game on ESPN this season, after Miami-Oklahoma City on Jan. 29.
At the same time, if the Bulls were planning to concede Heat-Pacers as the Eastern Conference finals matchup, they wouldn't be doing their jobs.
"Sometimes people say things they don't really know about," D.J. Augustin said Thursday at the Berto Center. "In the playoffs, anything can happen. It's going to be funny to watch, if one of those teams go down, kind of have the last laugh at them.
"We can't worry about that kind of stuff. We've got to focus on ourselves. We feel like we can beat any team in the NBA, East or West, so that's the mindset we have."
The Bulls are down to 11 games left in the regular season and are tied with Toronto for the No. 3 seed. Their final position will not only determine homecourt advantage and the first-round opponent, but whether they draw Indiana or Miami should they reach the second round.
"The thing that I think you want to do is take everything step by step, and if you do that, you want to try to put as many things in your favor as you can," coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Augustin impressed with focus:
D.J. Augustin went to the playoffs twice in his first five NBA seasons, so this experience with the Bulls is not unique. But he has learned to appreciate being on a winning team.
"Being on a winning team, it's different. The atmosphere, guys are focused," he said. "But we're really not looking at the playoffs right now. We still have 11 games left, so we're just focused on those 11 games. When the time comes, we know it's going to be exciting and we're going to be focused.
Augustin was released by Toronto in December, but he has been the Bulls' leading scorer (14.3 ppg) since he arrived here Dec. 13.
Asked what has impressed him the most about the Bulls, Augustin said: "The focus level every day in practice, for games. The energy we bring, no matter who we're playing against. It's hard to do that in a long season in the NBA, but we bring it every day.
"I think it starts with him, coach Thibs. But we have guys like Joakim and guys that just bring it. For the rest of us, we have to bring that same intensity every day."
Slumps are relative:
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was asked if he buys the idea that Indiana and Miami are vulnerable, because they haven't been playing as well lately. The Pacers are 6-7 in their last 13 games; the Heat 5-8 in its last 13.
The Bulls have more wins than any team in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1, going 28-13.
"No, because their record says what they are," he said. "When you build up the cushion those two teams have … maybe there were some injuries, maybe the schedule changed a little bit. But when you look at it in totality you can say, 'OK, after 70 games this is their record.' That tells you they're good."
Playoff tickets on sale:
Tickets for the first two rounds of the playoffs go on sale Friday at 11 a.m. at the United Center, bulls.com, nbatickets.com or by calling 1-800-4 NBA-TIX.