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posted: 3/30/2014 8:00 AM

Bulls now looking to finish strong

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  • Portland's Nicolas Batum, top, battles Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler for a rebound during the second half Friday night. The Trail Blazers won 91-74.

      Portland's Nicolas Batum, top, battles Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler for a rebound during the second half Friday night. The Trail Blazers won 91-74.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Bulls had reason to celebrate Friday night.

Not because they clinched a playoff berth when New York lost to Phoenix. The best news is the Bulls are done playing top teams from the Western Conference.

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The Bulls were buried by a Portland team playing its fourth game in five nights. The hot-shooting Blazers opened a 24-point lead in the third quarter and coasted to a 91-74 victory.

There are nine Western Conference teams in playoff contention, all with better records than the Bulls. The results weren't terrible. The Bulls went 7-11 against those teams, but the average margin of defeat was 15.3 points.

Many times this season the Bulls seemed completely outclassed by the best from the West, and Friday was another example.

There's more good news, however. In the final 10 games of the regular season, the Bulls will face opponents with inferior records. Only one Western Conference team remains (Minnesota) and just two teams that currently sport winning records (Minnesota and Washington).

And, of course, the Bulls will be playing Eastern Conference competition in the playoffs, unless they get to the Finals.

The miserable performance against Portland followed a pair of rare practice days. Naturally, coach Tom Thibodeau decided to skip practice Saturday. The Bulls will play consecutive games against Boston on Sunday and Monday.

After losing to the Blazers, Thibodeau talked about his method for recovery.

"For us, it's about improvement each and every day," he said. "I don't want to look back at Indiana (a win last Monday). We lost this game. We're going to analyze why we lost it, make our corrections, get ready for Boston.

"One game is not the end-all either way. You want to keep building. Hopefully you're building the right habits. We've got to be ready to bounce back."

The Bulls have gone 28-14 since Jan. 1, so there's no reason to panic. The main goal for the final 10 games seems clear: finish with the No. 3 or 4 seed in the East and secure homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bulls are in fourth place, a game behind Toronto. They are just one up in the loss column on fifth-place Brooklyn, though, so this is not the time to relax.

"We pay attention to everything. It's our job to pay attention to what's going on, what's important is us," Joakim Noah said after Friday's game. "We've got to focus on what we can do to get better. There are 10 games left. We're playing pretty good basketball. Today is just a bump in the road."

The Bulls (40-32) are done playing Toronto and Brooklyn. They won the season series with the Nets 2-1 and split four games with the Raptors.

The Bulls would lose any tiebreaker against the team that wins the Atlantic Division, either the Raptors or Nets, because division champ is the first tiebreaker, before even head-to-head. The Bulls will finish second in the Central Division behind Indiana but would get the No. 3 seed by finishing with the third-best record in the East.

Of the 10 games remaining, six are on the road, including several against teams still in playoff contention: Atlanta, Washington, New York and Charlotte. The Bulls are 17-18 on the road.

• Follow Mike's Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls.

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