Aiming to be one the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls have a goal of finishing with fewer than 10 home losses. It won’t be easy, though, considering the teams visiting the United Center this week.
The Bulls look to continue their push for home-court advantage in the playoffs on Thursday when they host the East-leading Detroit Pistons, who are coming off an improbable victory.
Chicago (42-30), which clinched a playoff spot Wednesday when Indiana lost to New Jersey, has the third-best record in the conference.
However, because of the league’s playoff format, the Bulls are seeded fifth behind Southeast Division-leading Miami and Atlantic Division-leading Toronto. They would still get the home-court edge for the first round with their current seed, a major advantage to the team with the East’s best home record at 27-9.
The Bulls are four games back of the first-place Pistons, whose 24-18 road record is the best in the East, and are within one game of second-place Cleveland, which has the East’s second-best road record at 16-18. The Cavaliers visit Chicago on Saturday.
“We have two big games this week and it’s important to stay focused,” said coach Scott Skiles said, whose Bulls are 7-2 at home since the All-Star break. “With Detroit coming in off a huge win, that’s a huge challenge.”
The Pistons (45-25) appeared to be heading to a certain defeat against Denver on Monday, with the Nuggets preparing to inbound the ball at midcourt with a 98-95 lead and 1.5 seconds to play.
“We shoot those all the time before the game,” said Wallace, who had 22 points. “This one went in, but it isn’t like it won a championship or anything.”
Chauncey Billups finished with a season-high 34 points and 10 assists on Monday after averaging 12.7 points and 3.3 assists in his last three games.
“I hope this one can carry over for us,” Billups said. “We just hit a shot like that to beat a pretty good team when we were missing a couple guys.”
Hamilton has scored 49 points in two games against the Bulls this season, while Webber made a huge impact in his only game against them as a member of the Pistons. The 14-year veteran scored 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds and made a putback with 2.2 seconds remaining to lift Detroit to a 95-93 win over Chicago on Feb. 25.
In the other meeting between the teams this season, Chicago’s 106-89 win on Jan. 6 snapped Detroit’s 12-game winning streak at the United Center.
Luol Deng had a game-high 30 points in that victory, and scored a career-high 38 on 18-of-25 shooting in the Bulls’ 100-89 win over Portland on Monday.
“I don’t even think he’s reached half his potential,” said former Piston Ben Wallace, who had 16 rebounds on Monday. “He’s just learning the game. I think once he realizes how good he can truly be, he’s definitely going to be an All-Star in this league.”
Wallace has 18 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocks in two games against his former team, while Bulls leading scorer Ben Gordon has 44 points in those contests.
Gordon scored 17 against the Trail Blazers and Kirk Hinrich had 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to help Chicago to its third straight win.
Hinrich is averaging 21.3 points - 4.9 better than his season average - in his last four games, but has been held to 12 points on 5-of-20 shooting against the Pistons this season.
These teams conclude their season series in Detroit next Wednesday.