While the moves the Chicago Bulls made at the trade deadline were done with an eye toward building a championship contender next year, their current play is helping keep them in playoff position this season.
The Bulls look for a fourth consecutive victory when they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.
By trading swingman John Salmons(notes) and underachieving former fourth-overall pick Tyrus Thomas(notes) on Thursday, Chicago (28-26) could have almost $20 million in salary cap space to go after a group of marquee free agents that include LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes).
In the meantime, the Bulls remain focused on reaching the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
“All the guys who were here before, the guys now - the goal in this league is to win,” guard Kirk Hinrich(notes) said. “I feel like we’ve put ourselves in a good position to have a good strong finish.”
Chicago is tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference after winning 100-94 at Minnesota on Friday for its third straight victory since the All-Star break and fifth in six games. The Bulls are in the midst of a favorable stretch with seven of their eight games out of the break against teams with losing records.
Philadelphia (21-33) is one of those clubs. Though the 76ers beat the Bulls 106-103 in overtime at home Feb. 3, they’ve dropped their last two trips to the United Center, including a 94-88 decision on Nov. 14.
All-Star and reigning rookie of the year Derrick Rose(notes) has averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists while shooting 54.0 percent in six career games against the 76ers. He had 30 points and nine assists at Philadelphia earlier this month, and despite still dealing with a sore hip, scored 19 with eight rebounds and five assists against the Timberwolves.
Hinrich, who had 19 against the 76ers in November, notched a team-high 20 points Friday for the Bulls, who’ve averaged 111.0 on 50.4 percent shooting while beating Minnesota and New York twice in their last three games.
“We want to be smart about it,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said of Noah’s injury.
Philadelphia opens a four-game road trip after avoiding its third consecutive loss with a 106-94 home win over San Antonio on Friday.
Andre Iguodala(notes) had 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists while Lou Williams scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and Elton Brand(notes) finished with 18 as the 76ers won for the sixth time in eight contests.
Iguodala bounced back after totaling 19 points in his previous two contests and the 76ers outscored the Spurs 33-18 in the fourth quarter.
“That’s the winning quarter,” said Williams, who also had 20 points at Chicago in November.
Iguodala scored 24 at Chicago earlier this season, and 25 with eight rebounds and eight assists against the Bulls earlier this month. The Springfield, Ill, native has averaged 23.0 points, 7.8 boards and 6.0 assists in his last five games at the United Center.
Brand, the No. 1 overall pick by the Bulls in the 1999, has averaged 19.7 points and 11.1 rebounds in 15 career games against his former team. He had 26 earlier this month versus Chicago.