Some struggles late in the season could cost the Philadelphia 76ers a chance to face an easier opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
The Sixers try to avoid a third straight loss when they visit the Chicago Bulls, who are completing their season.
Philadelphia is in the playoffs, but could end up regretting its late-season slump. The Sixers have lost four of their last six games, putting their chances of winning a division title in jeopardy.
Philadelphia is 1 1/2 games behind first-place New Jersey in the Atlantic Division. The Sixers own the tiebreaker and would earn the division title if they win their last two games and New Jersey loses its finale at Indiana on Wednesday.
Even if they don’t win the division, the Sixers can still finish as high as third in the Eastern Conference. However, they could also fall to fourth or even fifth, and face a difficult first-round opponent in New Orleans in the opening round.
The Hornets beat the Sixers on Sunday and won two of three meetings during the season.
“The last couple of seasons we have ended the year with losses, and they have somewhat hurt our positioning as far as the playoffs,” Philadelphia guard Eric Snow said. “We just want to play some good basketball these last couple games and win.”
Injuries have been the biggest problem for the Sixers. They played without starters Derrick Coleman and Keith Van Horn on Sunday, and X-rays after the game showed reserve John Salmons has a thumb fracture.
“When we don’t have these guys in practice and then we don’t have them in the game either, it makes it that much harder for us to have any type of chemistry that we want going into the playoffs,” Sixers guard Allen Iverson said.
“It is just something we have to deal with and overcome.”
Philadelphia closes the season at home Wednesday against Washington in Michael Jordan’s final game.
The Bulls missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year since Jordan’s previous retirement and the dismantling of their dynasty following the 1998 season.
But Chicago was improved this season, posting its highest win total since its championship years. The Bulls were particularly tough at the United Center, where their 26 wins are more than their overall total in any of the last four seasons.
The Bulls are playing their seventh straight game against a team in the playoffs. They are 3-3 during that stretch despite a 119-95 loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
Philadelphia has won all three meetings this season and 15 of the last 19. The Sixers are 8-0 at the United Center since the 1998-99 season.
STANDINGS (through April 13): 76ers - 2nd place, 2 GB, Atlantic Division. Bulls - 6th place, 20 1/2 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: 76ers - Iverson, 27.3 ppg; Thomas, 8.1 rpg; Snow, 6.7 apg. Bulls - Rose, 22.2 ppg and 4.8 apg; Donyell Marshall, 9.0 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: 76ers, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: April 2; 76ers, 108-101. At Philadelphia, Iverson scored 24 points and Thomas grabbed 14 rebounds.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: 76ers - 23-17 on the road; Bulls - 26-14 at home.
INJURIES: 76ers - F Coleman (thigh and hand); F Van Horn (foot); F Sam Clancy (knee); C Samuel Dalembert (knee); C Todd MacCulloch (foot). Bulls - F-C Tyson Chandler (esophagitis); F Marcus Fizer (knee); F Donyell Marshall (shoulder).