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Bulls lock No.1 seed ... almost


PhilBoxing.com


CHICAGO -- Barring a collapse of biblical proportions, the Chicago Bulls are poised to assume the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference when the 2012 NBA playoffs begin this April 28.

Up until Thursday night, the No.2 ranked Miami Heat were still in contention for the top seed in the East, but the Bulls effectively ended those hopes when Chicago tripped LeBron James and company in overtime, 96-86, at the United Center.

The Bulls, who were idle Friday night, now lead the East with a 45-14 won-lost slate. They also maintain a precariously slim lead over Western Conference powerhouse Oklahoma City Thunder (43-16) for the No.1 overall seed and homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals in June.

The Heat blasted the Charlotte Bobcats Friday night at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, 105-82, but with a 42-17 record, they are a full three games behind the Bulls as the lockout-shortened, 66-game season nears its April 26 end.

"It's tough. You reach these moments at times when you feel like you put so much into it collectively but can't get over the hump. We talked about it right before the game. 'We said there is no easy road. What we're trying to do will be the hardest thing that we'll have to do collectively,'" an obviously disappointed Heat coach Erick Spoelstra said.

The Bulls and Heat are deemed by pundits as shoo-ins for this year's East Conference Finals, a rematch of last year's battle, a series which the Heat handily won in five games, 4-1.

But what a difference a year makes. The Bulls are a year older and a year wiser. Their bench is much deeper now with the maturation of role players such as C.J. Watson, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and Ronnie Brewer.

The Bulls have also added veteran sharpshooter Rip Hamilton in the starting line-up while Luol Deng has blossomed into an All-Star for the first time in his career.

And then there's Derrick Rose, oft injured but still playing like an MVP when healthy.

So how important is homecourt advantage?

Consider this. The Bulls are 24-6 the United Center, a building the Heat have yet to win after two tries this season. And the Bulls defense is especially brutal at home, holding opponents to a scant 88.9 points per game. (Fakhouri Amjid)


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Fakhouri Amjid.


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