Bulls very wary of Nets in must-win final game
Fred Hoiberg made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament once when he coached at Iowa State.
He will be aiming for a different sort of Sweet 16 on Wednesday. If the Chicago Bulls can defeat Brooklyn at the United Center, they'll be one of the 16 teams to qualify for the NBA playoffs.
The Nets (20-61) have the league's worst record, but they beat the Bulls 107-106 in Brooklyn on Saturday and have played close to .500 over the past six weeks.
"Obviously, we need to go out there with unbelievable focus," Hoiberg said Tuesday at the Advocate Center. "This (Brooklyn) is a team that's playing its best basketball of the season right now, when you look at their recent stretch. It's the fastest-paced team in the league. We have to get back in transition. We need to do a good job like we did (Monday) night of getting off to a fast start."
The Bulls took care of the first leg of their must-win set of games by trouncing Orlando 122-75 on Monday. It was the worst loss in Magic franchise history.
Brooklyn is a little different, since it has played well since getting point guard Jeremy Lin back from an injury about six weeks ago. Rookie Caris LeVert and former Windy City Bull Spencer Dinwiddie starred last Saturday when the Nets rallied from 9 points down in the final 4:24 to beat the Bulls.
"Pretty much it's win or go home," guard Jerian Grant said. "Especially playing against a team that just beat us, I think we'll be ready."
The last time the Bulls faced a must-win situation in the final game of the regular season was 2010. They defeated Charlotte 98-89 on the road to grab a playoff spot.
So many scenarios:
For the Bulls, the playoff scenarios are fairly simple. Win Wednesday against Brooklyn and they're in. Lose and they can still get in if Miami loses at home to Washington. If the Bulls lose and Miami wins, the Bulls are out of the playoffs.
The Bulls can finish as the No. 7 seed if they win and Indiana loses at home to Atlanta. If the Pacers win, the Bulls can only be the No. 8 seed. Indiana still can miss the playoffs if it loses while the Bulls and Heat win.
As far as the first-round opponent goes, the Bulls would face Boston or Cleveland. Boston can clinch the top seed in the East with a home win over Milwaukee. If the Celtics lose and Cleveland beats Toronto at home, the Cavs will be the No. 1 seed.
The only spots that are settled in the East are Toronto at No. 3 and Washington at No. 4. Either Milwaukee or Atlanta will be the No. 5 seed.
In the West, all the first-round matchups have been determined: Golden State vs. Portland, San Antonio vs. Memphis, Houston vs. Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah.
The only question to be resolved is whether the Clippers or Jazz get homecourt advantage in the 4 vs. 5 series. The Clippers own the tiebreaker, so they can earn home court by beating Sacramento at home Wednesday.
Butler's jersey rises:
Jimmy Butler landed at No. 8 on the NBA's latest list of most popular jerseys, the highest spot ever for Butler. Dwyane Wade is No. 11 and ex-Bull Derrick Rose 12th.
Top seven jersey-sellers are Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Kristaps Porzingis. On the list of most popular team merchandise, the Bulls rank third behind Golden State and Cleveland.
Bulls game dayBulls vs. Brooklyn Nets at the United Center, 7 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: WLUP 98.7-FM
Outlook: Brooklyn owns the league's worst record at 20-61, as well as the worst road record (7-33). But the Nets have no reason to tank, since their first-round draft pick is already destined for Boston, and they've won four of their last six, including a 107-106 win over the Bulls on Saturday at the Barclays Center. Spencer Dinwiddie, who spent preseason with the Bulls, and rookie Caris LeVert led the Nets with 19 points each and both hit huge baskets in Brooklyn's late comeback. C Brook Lopez is the Nets' top scorer on the season at 20.5 ppg, followed by PG Jeremy Lin (14.5 ppg). SG Sean Kilpatrick (hamstring) and PF Quincy Acy (ankle) are both out. Brooklyn has lost five in a row at the UC. Jimmy Butler scored a combined 73 points in the last two games between these teams.
Next: First round playoffs or season over.
-- Mike McGraw