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Chicago Bulls 113, Philadelphia 76ers 99
It's a good thing Philadelphia's Spectrum is being torn down this fall.
After the Bulls lost a taut game in the closing seconds there March 13, Vinny Del Negro almost unhinged a coach's office door with a vicious slam, his frustration palpable as his team dropped eight games below .500 for the first time since Jan. 28.
Fast-forward to Thursday night at the United Center.
With Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf watching from his suite, the Bulls downed the 76ers 113-99 for their sixth straight home victory and 13th in 14 games.
That dropped the Bulls' magic number to clinch their fourth playoff berth in five seasons to one. If Charlotte loses Friday at Oklahoma City or Saturday at the United Center, the Bulls are in. The Bulls also took a half-game lead over Detroit for the Eastern Conference's seventh seed.
"I think we're the most dangerous team that's going to be in the postseason in the Eastern Conference right now," Tyrus Thomas said. "We're the underdog right now. But I think we're going to shock a lot of people."
Thomas and Ben Gordon scored 24 points apiece to lead the Bulls. Thomas, whose point total was a season high, sank all of his career-high 14 free-throw attempts as the Bulls went a perfect 19-for-19 from the line.
Derrick Rose added 16 points and eight assists, and Brad Miller contributed 15 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Bulls, who have scored more than 100 points in seven straight games.
"We deserve to be where we're at," Rose said.
The Bulls wore green uniforms as part of the league's environmental awareness week, but their defense needed to be recycled early as they trailed by as many as 14 in the second quarter.
But they closed strong as Rose sparked a 12-2 run with a fast-break dunk and a spectacular block from behind on Louis Williams that led to a Gordon three-pointer at the other end.
Gordon also hit a three-pointer before the block. Rose then capped the spurt with another fast-break layup as the Bulls entered halftime tied 50-50.
They started to pull away in the third as Thomas began attacking inside. Thomas scored six points in the 13-4 run that gave the Bulls a 78-67 bulge.
"Tyrus was outstanding," Del Negro said. "I really liked our side pick-and-roll. Tyrus was ducking in for layups and dunks."
The fun started in earnest in the fourth, with Miller taking a feed from John Salmons and spinning a reverse layup off the glass while being fouled. The three-point play drew smiles of appreciation for Miller's rare flash of athleticism.
"The hang time was unbelievable," Del Negro deadpanned.
The Bulls are 10-3 overall and 8-1 at home since that March 13 night in Philadelphia when Del Negro inflicted his minor damage on a crumbling building.
The United Center isn't going anywhere. In fact, soon it will be dressed up for playoff basketball.