CHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Bulls pushed aside the Toronto
Raptors to set up a first-round playoff series with the Miami Heat.
A team that appeared headed to the lottery not too long ago
completed its charge into the playoffs, finishing the regular
season with a 127-106 victory on Wednesday night to grab the No. 7
seed in the Eastern Conference.
Now, the attention turns toward Miami.
The Bulls will face the second-seeded Heat in a first-round
series that opens Saturday after winning 12 of their final 14 games
to finish 41-41.
Ben Gordon scored 24 points, hit 11 of 17 shots and added seven
assists and six rebounds. Kirk Hinrich finished with 17 points, 10
assists and seven rebounds for Chicago, which finished on a
season-high six-game win streak. Luol Deng scored 21 points and
Andres Nocioni added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The 127 points were a season high for the Bulls, who will make
their second straight playoff appearance.
"It means a lot," Gordon said. "It builds a lot of
Chicago began the night tied with Indiana, a game behind
fifth-place Washington and a half-game ahead of idle Milwaukee.
Washington beat Detroit by 16 and Indiana earned the sixth seed
with a six-point victory over Orlando, leaving the Bulls with a
first-round matchup against the Heat. A loss would have dropped
Chicago to the eighth spot.
With help from Detroit and Orlando, the Bulls could have
finished fifth or sixth.
To that, Gordon said, "I don't really care, to tell you the
"It would have been nice, but we took care of what we needed to
take care of," forward Malik Allen said.
A run late in the second quarter notwithstanding, Toronto never
was in this game.
Hinrich and Gordon hit 3-pointers in the opening minute, the
Bulls grabbed a 10-2 lead, and the Raptors never recovered. The
Bulls led by 11 after the first quarter and started the second with
an 11-1 run that made it 45-24. Hinrich's layup and Eric
Piatkowski's free throw boosted the Bulls' lead to 61-35 with 4:45
left before Toronto made its move.
Villanueva's banked 3-pointer at the end of the half pulled the
Raptors within 68-58.
"This was a big test for us," Bulls guard Chris Duhon said.
"Everyone thinks you're going to win, and you can easily get
caught up into that and play a loose game. It was important for us
to come out focused."
Last season, the Bulls started 0-9 but went 15-4 over the final
month, finished with 47 wins and earned their first playoff
appearance since the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era before
losing to Washington in the first round.
They re-signed coach Scott Skiles and Tyson Chandler to
multiyear contracts in the offseason, but negotiations with free
agent Eddy Curry unraveled and ended in a trade to New York on the
eve of training camp.
The Bulls insisted Curry, their leading scorer last season, take
a DNA test to rule out a potentially fatal heart condition. He
refused. So the Bulls sent him and veteran forward Antonio Davis to
New York for Michael Sweetney, Tim Thomas, Jermaine Jackson and
several draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2006.
It was a bad start for a Bulls team that appeared to be going
nowhere until its recent surge.
There was an eight-game losing streak in late December and early
January. A four-game skid that culminated in a 10-point loss at
Indiana on March 22 dropped the Bulls to 29-39, but they reversed
course. They avoided the draft lottery.
"It's a pretty levelheaded group, especially for young
players" Skiles said. "But this is pretty extreme -- being 10
games (under .500). ... Any time you have a 12-2 streak you're
doing something right."
Toronto simply struggled all season.
The Raptors started 1-15 and were 17 games under .500 before
Bosh injured his thumb in an overtime loss at Milwaukee on March
"I didn't want the season to be over so soon," said
Villanueva, who averaged 13 points as a rookie. "I had fun. I know
what to expect for next year."
Chandler and wife Kimberly are expecting their first child,
a daughter, any day. But he does not expect to miss a game. "I
want to be there at such a special moment, but if it's in the
middle of the game, I'll finish the game out and get there as
quickly as possible," Chandler said. ... The Bulls will likely
leave F Darius Songaila (broken right foot) off the postseason
roster, Skiles said. ... The Bulls have won 13 straight over
Toronto. ... Chicago's previous season high was 118 points against
Boston on Dec. 17. ... The Bulls led the NBA in lowest defensive
field-goal percentage (.426) for the second straight year.