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Bulls fend off Wizards, prepare for Nets in playoffs

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- What seemed to be a foregone conclusion finally came true, but not without a battle.

The Chicago Bulls used a late push to hold off the Washington Wizards and finish the regular season with a 95-92 victory Wednesday at the United Center.

The Bulls finished with the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and will face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Even if Chicago had lost to Washington, the Bulls (45-37) would have the same playoff matchup, because the Atlanta Hawks (44-38) also lost Wednesday.

Chicago went 3-1 against the Nets during the regular season. Game 1 will be played Saturday in Brooklyn.

"I don't put a lot of stock in (the regular-season record)," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They're tough. They have size. They have quality depth on that team, so we're going to have to play a complete game. Knowing your opponent well, being ready for that first game, I think that's huge."

Washington finished its season with a 29-53 record and six straight losses. The Wizards showed some promise after getting point guard John Wall back from a knee injury in early January.

Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Kirk Hinrich added 18 points, while center Nazr Mohammed scored a season-high 17 points.

Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) and Taj Gibson (left knee sprain) played limited minutes due to injuries, but the Bulls are hoping those two will be ready for the playoffs. Gibson played well Wednesday (eight points, four rebounds in 21 minutes), but Noah didn't look good, with no points and one rebound in 15 minutes.

"I felt very rusty. I'm just happy that I didn't have too much pain in my foot," Noah said. "I wish I would have gotten more (playing time), but it is what it is. I'm just happy my foot didn't flare up too much on me tonight. We'll see where it goes."

One positive for the Bulls is, while Noah is coming back from an injury, Mohammed is playing well and might be able to help against Nets center Brook Lopez.

"That's the one plus, I think, from Jo and Taj being out," Thibodeau said. "I think that got Nazr into rhythm. He's done a great job all year just working. Even when he wasn't playing, the way he handled himself and the way he kept working on his game ... then when the opportunity presented itself, he was right and ready."

The Wizards, missing five regulars and long eliminated from the playoff chase, trailed by as many as 21 points. However, they kept battling and tied the score at 85-85 on a 3-pointer by A.J. Price with 3:16 remaining.

Chicago came right back with an alley-oop dunk by Jimmy Butler. After a couple of Washington misses, Hinrich added a runner in the lane, and Luol Deng canned a 3-pointer to put the Bulls ahead 92-85 with 1:42 left.

The Wizards clawed back within 94-92 with 26.1 seconds left on a runner by Price. Hinrich hit one of two free throws to make it a 3-point game. After a Price 3-pointer was blocked by Gibson, Wall's final attempt to tie the score missed the rim at the buzzer.

Price finished with 24 points to lead Washington, while Wall added 23 points.

"We didn't put our heads down when we were down 21," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "We got it down to four at half. We have a ways to go in development, but I can't fault my guys' effort."

The game looked as though it would be a breeze for the Bulls when they jumped to a 29-8 lead. While Washington missed its first six shots of the game, Chicago shot 58.3 percent in the first quarter.

With the score 31-15 after one quarter, the No. 5 seed in the East seemed to be a done deal for the Bulls, but then Price got going for the Wizards. He hit six of nine shots for 16 points in the second quarter alone, leading Washington on a 16-0 run to trim the deficit to one point.

The Bulls went into halftime with a 52-47 advantage and seemed to get the second surge they needed to put the game away. After Wall opened the third quarter with a free throw, Boozer and Hinrich combined to produce a 9-0 run that pushed the lead to 61-50.

Washington came back again, using an 8-0 run to close within 69-66 with 1:15 left in the third on a dunk by Trevor Booker.

Chicago received a delay-of-game warning before the game started for failing to take the court in the allotted 90 seconds after introductions. That cost the Bulls a point in the second quarter when they got another delay warning after a made basket, resulting in a technical foul.

NOTES: Chicago star Derrick Rose sat out all 82 regular-season games, but coach Tom Thibodeau didn't rule out a return for the playoffs. Rose tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last year on April 28. "Whenever he's ready we're going to welcome him back because obviously he adds a lot to the team," Thibodeau said at the morning shootaround. "It's the same as (Joakim Noah) and Taj (Gibson). They come back (from injuries) and they're playing limited minutes, but it's a big plus to the team." ... The Wizards played without Bradley Beal (stress injury, right fibula), Trevor Ariza (sore left knee), Martell Webster (abdominal strain), Nene (sore foot), Emeka Okafor (ankle) and Leandro Barbosa (torn ACL). ... Chicago forward Vladimir Radmanovic was ruled out with a sore back. ... Washington will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season and for the 20th time in the past 25 years.
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