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updated: 4/16/2014 11:13 PM

Bulls draw Wizards to open playoffs

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  • The Bobcats' Al Jefferson strips the ball from the Bulls' Joakim Noah during the second half of Wednesday night's regular-season finale. The Bulls finished 48-34 with the loss.

      The Bobcats' Al Jefferson strips the ball from the Bulls' Joakim Noah during the second half of Wednesday night's regular-season finale. The Bulls finished 48-34 with the loss.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Bulls will get three days off before opening the playoffs Sunday night against the Washington Wizards.

That should allow for plenty of time to accomplish this task: find Andres Nocioni.

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This will be a rematch of the memorable 2005 playoff series between the Bulls and Wizards. The Bulls lost that one in six games, but the result doesn't erase the memory of Nocioni's 25 points and 18 rebounds, with fans chanting his name, in Game 1. In a just world, Nocioni would present the game ball Sunday.

It's not going to happen, because Nocioni is playing in the Spanish League for Laboral Kutxa (and averaging 14.8 points). Maybe the Bulls game-night crew can work up a hologram.

This time, instead of Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, the Bulls will be battling another young backcourt making its first trip to the playoffs -- John Wall and Bradley Beal. The '05 Wizards had a veteran up front in Antawn Jamison. The new Wizards have Marcin Gortat and Nene at center.

So there are some similarities. Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich saw heavy action in that series nine years ago.

After the Bulls finished the regular season with a 91-86 overtime loss at Charlotte, coach Tom Thibodeau provided some early thoughts on Washington.

"The speed of Wall and they have quality bigs up front. Beal's a terrific player, (Trevor) Ariza," he said. "They're tough. Their conference record is very good. They've been a good road team."

Washington is the only team in the Eastern Conference to post a winning record against the Bulls, but that doesn't mean much. The Wizards beat the Bulls twice in four days in January, while the Bulls blew out Washington on April 5.

The recent game doesn't have much meaning, either. The playoffs won't be so easy.

"It's the playoffs," Thibodeau said. "How well you know your opponent, how well you're playing, being as sharp as possible and knowing that most often these things come down to one or two possessions. Tonight's game was good preparation for that."

The Bulls (48-34) stayed true to their selves in the season finale, playing the regular rotation. Jimmy Butler logged 48 minutes Wednesday, while Joakim Noah and Mike Dunleavy played 42 minutes each.

D.J. Augustin led six players in double figures with 17 points. The Bulls shot just below 40 percent from the field and were outrebounded 53-44.

The Bulls led 80-77 with 2:27 left in the fourth quarter but went scoreless for the rest of regulation, and the Bobcats started overtime with a 10-1 run.

By losing, the Bulls clinched the No. 4 seed in the East. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the opponent to be settled. Brooklyn rested most of its starters and lost badly in Cleveland, while Washington cruised to a win at Boston. Those results moved the Wizards into the No. 5 spot and the Nets slid to No. 6. Brooklyn will face Toronto in the first round.

In theory, the Bulls could have gotten the No. 3 seed by beating Charlotte, because Toronto lost to New York on Wednesday. But the Raptors sat their starters in the fourth quarter, so maybe it would have been different if the Bulls had won, since the Toronto-New York game tipped off an hour later.

On paper, anyway, this is a pretty good draw for the Bulls. They'll play Washington, a less experienced playoff team, instead of a first-round rematch with Brooklyn, one of the hottest teams in the East late this season.

If the Bulls survive into the second round, they'd play the Indiana-Atlanta winner. Given a choice, the Bulls probably would prefer to see the slumping Pacers over the defending champion Miami Heat.

But the Bulls won't go anywhere if they don't play well.

"It's a tough time of the year," Thibodeau added. "There are things we did well, some things we've got to do a lot better. I think the important thing is this is what you work for -- 82 games, it's over.

"A lot of work went into it. Our players responded well, put us in a good position. We have a great opportunity. Now it's up to us to make the most of the opportunity that we have."

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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