The Chicago Bulls have clinched the Eastern Conference’s top seed, but first-year coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t planning on resting his stars.
Not when they have a chance to finish with the NBA’s best record and earn home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Chicago (59-20) secured the East’s best record Friday with a 93-82 win over Cleveland, its sixth straight victory and 18th in 20 games. It’s the first time the Bulls captured the East’s top seed since 1997-98, the most recent of their six NBA championships with Michael Jordan.
“It’s good to be the No. 1 seed, but at the end of the day we understand that there is a bigger picture,” Noah added. “We’re staying focused. It’s definitely an achievement and we’re excited about it.”
“You want to put as many things going in your favor as possible,” Thibodeau said. “It doesn’t guarantee anything, but that’s how you have to approach it.”
The Bulls appear to be catching a break by facing a Magic team that will be without Howard.
Stan Van Gundy had recently voiced his displeasure with the media essentially crowning Rose the MVP, but his choice for the award won’t get an opportunity to impress voters Sunday.
Howard will serve an automatic one-game suspension for picking up his 18th technical foul in Wednesday’s 111-102 overtime victory over Charlotte. Quentin Richardson(notes) is also suspended for two games for shoving Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson(notes) in the face.
Howard received his latest technical after referee Bennett Salvatore called a 10-second violation before the five-time All-Star center attempted a free throw late in the second quarter. Howard then tossed the ball away from the officials, and Salvatore immediately gave him a technical.
“I don’t see a lot of people getting called for it,” Howard said. “I was really upset about it.”
Howard has previously given the Bulls trouble inside. He had a season high-tying 40 points and 15 rebounds in Chicago on Jan. 28, but the Bulls still pulled out a 99-90 victory.
Boozer had one of his best games of the season Friday, finishing with 24 points on 12 of 18 shooting and 11 rebounds. That helped offset an off night by Rose, who finished with 11 points, his second-lowest output of the season.
Rose also hasn’t enjoyed as much success against Orlando this year, averaging 20.3 points on 37.0 percent shooting.
Arenas started for just the second time since being acquired by Orlando on Dec. 18, and finished with 25 points on 9 of 14 shooting in 45 minutes to help the Magic secure their fourth consecutive 50-win season. Arenas, who had combined for 17 points on 4 of 28 shooting in his previous four games, scored 30 in Chicago on Nov .13, while playing for Washington.