Cavaliers-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls don't yet know who they're hosting in the first round of the NBA playoffs, but they do know a win in their regular-season finale will give them home-court advantage as long as they're alive in the postseason.

The Bulls try to earn their 50th win and wrap up the league's top spot overall Thursday night at the United Center against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that could benefit with a loss.

Chicago (49-16) was guaranteed the top seed in the Eastern Conference when Miami lost at Boston on Tuesday, and got a step closer to securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with Wednesday's 92-87 win at Indiana.

Another victory Thursday - or a San Antonio loss later that night at Golden State - would guarantee the Bulls the No. 1 overall seed.

"We're just trying to do what we can do as a team,'' center Joakim Noah said after finishing with 14 points and 14 rebounds against the Pacers. "We're just playing for ourselves. We just want to be playing well for when it really counts.''

Chicago isn't yet sure who it'll face in the first round, but it'll be Philadelphia as long as New York can hand Charlotte a 23rd consecutive loss on Thursday or the 76ers lose at Detroit. Should the Knicks lose and Philadelphia win, the Bulls would host New York in Game 1.

Chicago's biggest concern heading into the postseason is certainly the health of Derrick Rose, and the league's reigning MVP was feeling good about his right ankle and foot despite missing 8 of 11 shots and finishing with 10 points in nearly 27 minutes Wednesday.

"Every day is getting better,'' said Rose, who's shot 32.1 percent in the five games he's played in April. "I'm not trying to do too much out there, just trying to play with the team, trying not to get reinjured. That's the biggest thing, and making sure I'm playing with a lot of confidence.''

Every starter except Carlos Boozer played at least 26 minutes Wednesday, and Thibodeau expects his stars to see plenty of action Thursday as well despite there being nothing to gain.

"It will be about the same,'' he said. "We'll see where we are. I want our starters to get more time together, so it will be similar to tonight. We'll see how the game unfolds. I just want us to continue to take it step by step.''

His starters haven't needed to play much against the Cavaliers (21-44) this season. The Bulls won both meetings in Cleveland by an average of 30.0 points, with Luol Deng averaging 22.5 points in just about 33 minutes - by far the most time on the floor of anyone on the roster.

Rose and likely rookie of the year Kyrie Irving alternated absences in those games, and the speedy point guards will have to wait until next season to square off for the first time. Originally listed as doubtful in Wednesday's home finale against Washington, Irving started and played 10 minutes in the 96-85 loss but won't play Thursday.

"I'm pretty content just to get out there and play in the final home game. Coach (Byron) Scott told me I was going to get 10 minutes and I got 9:47,'' Irving said. "I'll roll those 13 seconds over and I'll have some rollover minutes going forward.''

The Cavs landed the top pick to select Irving despite having the eighth-best chance of landing No. 1 - with a choice acquired from the Clippers - but they'll have a better opportunity to land atop the lottery next month with a loss Thursday. Falling in Chicago would guarantee Cleveland at least a tie for the third-worst record.

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