The Bulls can avoid a first-round matchup against the best team in the NBA if they beat the Toronto Raptors in their regular-season finale.
Chicago, which has won a season-high five straight, has clinched a second straight playoff berth. The Bulls are tied with Indiana for sixth place in the crowded Eastern Conference standings, one game behind fifth-place Washington and one-half game ahead of eighth-place Milwaukee.
The Bulls can still finish anywhere from fifth to eighth. They need a win and a loss by the Wizards at Detroit to claim the fifth spot, but a victory over the Raptors would give them at least seventh place.
A loss to Toronto guarantees Chicago the eighth seed and a trip to Detroit it probably wants to avoid.
“Our goal is to be the highest seed we can. That is our motivation to move up,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. “We have a shot to finish .500 for the season and improve our seeding. We have a lot to play for.”
Rather than looking at the myriad possibilities, Chicago is focusing on the season finale.
“We got a shot to .500 and we were 10 games under in March, that would be quite a comeback if we get the win on Wednesday,” Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. “We’re not trying to do anything other than win.”
Forward Andres Nocioni has provided some inspired play in helping the Bulls to nine wins in their last 10 games. Nocioni is averaging 18.4 points and 10.7 rebounds in that stretch with seven double-doubles.
Chicago has beaten Toronto 12 straight times, including three wins this season by an average of 12 points. Prior to the streak, the Raptors had won 16 straight in the series.
The Bulls are averaging 107.3 points on 53 percent shooting this season against the Raptors, including 56 percent shooting on 3-pointers.
Toronto will complete its fourth straight losing season. The Raptors have been without injured leading scorer Chris Bosh since March 26 and have lost 10 of 11 in that stretch.
The Raptors, who intend to build their team around Bosh and rookie forward Charlie Villanueva, also enter as losers of six straight on the road.
“My expectation is to go out and win next year,” Toronto guard Morris Peterson said. “With the experience we’ve gained this year, my whole thing is to take this experience and be hungry and be ready and be angry. As a professional, you have to want to win and that’s my mentality.”