In the midst of a bizarre off-the-court distraction, the Chicago Bulls are simply focused on winning just one more game.
The Bulls look to secure a second straight playoff berth with a victory in Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against a Charlotte Bobcats team that is already locked into the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed.
A playoff berth seemed highly unlikely for Chicago as it endured a 10-game losing streak Feb. 27-March 19, but the team has rallied to win nine of 13 since to take a one-game lead over Toronto for the East’s final playoff spot.
The Bulls (40-41) will make the playoffs for the fifth time in six years with a victory over the Bobcats, but can also make the postseason if the Raptors, who own the tiebreaker, lose at home to New York on Wednesday.
Chicago pulled ahead of Toronto with an impressive 104-88 victory at Air Canada Centre on Sunday, and followed that up with Tuesday’s 101-93 win over Boston. Derrick Rose(notes) and Kirk Hinrich(notes) carried the Bulls over the Celtics with Rose scoring a career-high 39 points and Hinrich adding a season-best 30.
Thursday’s victory was somewhat overshadowed, though, by some potentially distracting news.
Yahoo! Sports, citing sources, reported executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson shoved coach Vinny Del Negro twice in the chest and had to be restrained in a confrontation over Joakim Noah’s(notes) minutes after the March 30 home game against Phoenix. Noah was sidelined for the entire 10-game skid because of plantar fasciitis and has seen his playing time increase since his return.
“I’m not going to comment,” Del Negro said. “I go about my job everyday no matter what happens. I’m a competitor. I’ve been involved in the game a long time. I love the challenge of it. All the other things that happen pretty much stay internally.”
Noah, who is averaging 13.2 points and 14.3 boards in his last six games, doesn’t want to see this become a distraction for the team.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Noah said. “Things happen in an organization. … I don’t think it’s fair for us as players to be talking about that stuff. It’s nothing. Really, it’s nothing.”
The Bulls have won two of three over the Bobcats this season, but lost the lone meeting in Charlotte, 113-108 on Jan. 5. These teams met just over a week ago, with Chicago winning 96-88 at the United Center on April 3 behind 26 points from Rose and 24 from Hinrich.
Unlike Chicago, the Bobcats (44-37) have little to play for, as they prepare for the first playoff appearance in the franchise’s six-year history.
With Charlotte’s 105-95 win over New Jersey, coupled with Miami’s victory over Philadelphia, the Bobcats were cemented into the No. 7 playoff spot. In the first round of the playoffs this weekend, Charlotte will meet defending conference champion Orlando, which won the season series 3-1.
Although this game means nothing for Charlotte, coach Larry Brown isn’t planning on resting his regulars.
“It will be a meaningful game for Chicago, so we’re going to have to go out and try to win. It wouldn’t be right just to go out and play,” Brown told the Bobcats’ official Web site. “Hopefully we don’t play (the first game of the first round) until Sunday - I don’t know what the schedule is, but that would give us the opportunity to rest some people then.”
Wallace, who sat out against the Nets, had 32 points and nine boards in Charlotte’s lone win over the Bulls this season.