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Chicago Bulls defeat Charlotte Bobcats 113-106
On Feb. 10, fans booed general manager John Paxson as he spoke at the Johnny "Red" Kerr tribute.
Eight days later, Paxson pulled off the trade with Sacramento that netted the Bulls both John Salmons and Brad Miller.
Two months later, the Bulls are in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and, after Saturday night's 113-106 victory over Charlotte, in sole possession of the Eastern Conference's seventh seed.
After last season's 33-victory train wreck and his negative reception, does Paxson feel vindicated?
"It's not about that and, obviously, [seventh or eighth seed] isn't what we all desire," Paxson said. "Four in five years does mean something. It's good for a lot of reasons to make the playoffs.
"It's good for a first-time coach and the staff and the players, especially young guys like Derrick [Rose] and Joakim [Noah]. Until you experience it as a player, you don't know what playoff intensity is."
Despite being eliminated from playoff contention the night before, the Bobcats brought that intensity to the United Center. They led from early in the third quarter to early in the fourth before the Bulls charged.
D.J. Augustin's turnover led to a pretty fast break where Rose fed Ben Gordon, who fed Noah, all without the ball touching the floor. Noah dunked and was fouled, converting the three-point play to knot the score at 87-87 with 8 minutes 53 seconds left.
The Bulls took the lead for good at 95-93 with 5:25 to go when John Salmons, 3 of 15 to that point, swished a three-pointer in front of the Bobcats' bench. After a Raymond Felton miss, Gordon barely beat the shot clock to sink another three.
Gordon then forced a turnover and Salmons made one of two free throws for a 99-93 lead. Salmons capped the 10-0 run with another three.
Gordon finished with 39 points and Rose, who hit his first seven shots, added 22 points and seven assists. Noah added 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists
The Bulls prevailed for the seventh straight time at home and 14th time in 15 games. They also pulled to .500 (40-40) for the first time since Nov. 15.
With Detroit's loss at Indiana on Saturday, the Bulls took a one-game lead for seventh and pulled within a half game of Philadelphia for sixth. If the Bulls win Monday night's critical matchup in Detroit, they are guaranteed not to finish eighth, thus avoiding a first-round matchup with Cleveland.
No matter their seed, the young Bulls will be experiencing playoff intensity for the first time.
"It's invaluable," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "It's a huge experience. The first time you're in the playoffs, you realize how different it is from the regular season. It's a different atmosphere and intensity and that should be good for our young guys."
Rose, who didn't even know the Bulls had clinched a playoff berth until Saturday morning, agreed.
"I want to get here every year," he said. "We're a young team and we can be together a long time. We started out slow. But this whole organization never gave up."
The way the Bulls have closed validated Rose's next comment.
"We're supposed to be here," he said. "I'm happy that we're going to be in and see what our young guys are made of," Paxson said. "It shows our guys haven't quit. And we haven't backed in. We've won and we've been playing well."