Bulls beat Wizards to lock up No. 5 seed
They got there, though - even if the outside expectations are a little lower this time.
Carlos Boozer had 19 points and 15 rebounds and the Bulls locked up the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 95-92 victory over the Washington Wizards in the regular-season finale Wednesday night.
Kirk Hinrich added 18 points and Nazr Mohammed added a season-high 17 for the Bulls, who will face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
Chicago finished with the best record in the East the past two years but has ceded that distinction to the defending champion Miami Heat.
Considering all they've overcome, they'll take it.
''We proved this year that we can beat the best and lose to the worst,'' Joakim Noah said. ''Up-and-down year. It's been a tough year. I'm proud of the way we've handled so much adversity.''
They've dealt with the soap opera surrounding Derrick Rose and his season-long recovery from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, not to mention a long line of injuries to other key players.
Yet here they are, about as healthy as they've been all season and hoping to stick around and not make this a one-and-done playoff appearance.
They come in on a winning note, although this game sure wasn't easy.
They had to withstand A.J. Price going off for a career-high 24 points and John Wall finishing with 23 after a slow start, not to mention several big comebacks when the Wizards looked as though they were ready to be put away.
The Bulls led by 21 late in the first quarter but allowed Washington to pull within a point in the second. Chicago then got the lead back up to 11 in the third, but the Wizards rallied again.
This time, Washington tied it at 85 on a 3-pointer by Price with just over three minutes left before the Bulls responded with seven unanswered points. Richard Hamilton fed Jimmy Butler for an alley-oop dunk, Hinrich hit a floater and Luol Deng nailed a 3 - after missing five of his first six field goal attempts - to make it 92-85 with 1:42 remaining.
The Wizards cut it to 94-92 on a 3-pointer by Wall and a floater by Price with 26.1 seconds left. Hinrich then had a chance to make it a two-possession game but missed the first free throw before hitting the second to make it 95-92 with 17.1 seconds left.
Taj Gibson blocked a 3-point attempt from the wing by Price with 10 seconds left, and Wall put up an air ball from long range at the buzzer with Butler guarding him, preserving the win for Chicago.
''I was surprised (Gibson) got a piece of it,'' Price said. ''I told him he's so long after he blocked the shot. I thought I had room. Had about four feet, but he still got a piece of it. Great defensive play by him.''
The Bulls appear to be healing with the playoffs set to begin.
They had every key player available except Rose, although Noah (foot) and Gibson (knee) had their minutes limited for the second straight game after missing time because of their injuries.
Noah played 14 minutes, did not score and grabbed one rebound. Gibson had eight points in 21 minutes, and it's not clear if they'll start or come off the bench when the Bulls open against the Nets.
''We're just trying to figure out the best thing in terms of where their minutes are,'' coach Tom Thibodeau said. ''But having them back is a big plus for us. Whatever they can give us, I feel confident they will get better as time goes along.''
The Wizards had their share of injuries, too, and a season that started with 12 straight losses ended with them dropping their sixth in a row. They were missing Emeka Okafor after he sprained his right ankle against Brooklyn on Monday.
''Great season for our team from where we started and where we finished,'' Wall said. ''We know where we can be if we play together and everyone stays healthy.''
Notes: The Bulls took three of four from Brooklyn, winning twice at the United Center and once at the Barclays Center. ... Boozer had his 13th double-double in 16 games and his 44th of the season. ... Besides Okafor, Washington was also missing Bradley Beal (stress injury, right fibula), Nene (sore left foot), Martell Webster (strained abdomen), Trevor Ariza (sore left knee) and Leandro Barbosa (torn left ACL).