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The End: Nets stand between Bulls and playoffs

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

They almost pulled it off. Brooklyn fell behind by 27 to the Celtics and fought back to make it a single digit game deep into the fourth quarter. However, Boston proved to be too much and they came away with a victory that put them atop the Eastern Conference.

Simply put, this is a playoff game for the Chicago Bulls. They’ve had a terrible season, but can get themselves into the postseason with a win tonight. They helped themselves out with a 47 point BEATEMDOWN against the Orlando Magic on Monday night. There are three teams —the Bulls, Heat and Pacers— looking at two playoff spots.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV and WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30.

Injuries

We’ve got a party here. Brook Lopez, Trevor Booker and Jeremy Lin will be given the night off for rest. Quincy Acy, Joe Harris, and Sean Kilpatrick are out due to injury.

Pundits are accusing Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson of trying to influence the playoff race in the East by removing Lopez and Lin from the field of battle, but both GM and coach say they want to see what the young guys can do.

One thing is for sure: the Miami Heat are not happy.

Rajon Rondo is hoping to come back and play in tonight’s game.

The game

Chicago won the first game in October and the second in December while the Nets won the third game on Sunday.

I mentioned that this is a must win game for the Bulls, but for Fred Hoiberg, the stakes might be higher. From Easy Eis at Blog a Bull:

The point I’m attempting to make here is that the rationales behind keeping Hoiberg are almost non-existent at this point from every perspective except for the front office. Their reasoning behind retaining Hoiberg likely falls within avoiding having to admit they made the wrong call when attempting to unnecessarily replace Tom Thibodeau as well as having to pay the $15 million remaining on his contract after this season. That first half of their case may already be irrelevant when considering the rest of the association is likely already aware that Hoiberg has no clue when it comes to commanding a professional basketball roster. Therefore, keeping Hoiberg in the event that the Bulls miss the playoffs would have to be viewed as a predominantly financially-motivated decision. There is simply no other justification, and even that one is weak at best when considering management fired Thibs despite still owing him $9 million.

I have to imagine missing the playoffs because of a home loss to the worst team in the NBA would be grounds for dismissal at every other franchise around the league. Of course, the Bulls could still advance to the postseason simply if the Heat lose, and it’s highly unlikely Hoiberg gets canned for losing his first playoff series to one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. For that reason, I’m sure we can all agree that we’ll be feverishly rooting for a Miami victory on Wednesday. Had you told me I’d be doing so five years ago, I probably would have slapped you across the face.

Damn.

With the Nets best players out, the focus will be on Caris Levert. Levert has improved each month of the season and will play a big part in what the team will look to do in free agency this summer. He’ll have to match up with Jimmy Butler tonight. Butler has carried the Bulls this far and will have to do it one more time if they wanna sneak into the playoffs. For as good as Butler's been, Chicago hasn't surrounded him with the talent that fits his skill set.

Player to watch: Nikola Mirotic

When Taj Gibson got traded to Oklahoma City, Mirotic stepped up. In the second half, Niko has averaged 14 points and six rebounds on a 47.7/42.2/79.1 shooting split. Mirotic is a terrible defender and if Chicago makes it into the playoffs, that could create major issues for them.

Rondae Hollis Jefferson will be at the power forward spot once again for Brooklyn. Initially, I had doubts as to whether RHJ at the four position would work. However, he's done better than expected and might be the full time PF next season and beyond.

From the Vault

Since this is the year of the triple double, let’s take it back to 2007 and watch Jason Kidd pick up a triple double.

More reading: Blog a Bull