The Bulls keep insisting they're focusing on their business, not the scoreboard, but the ramifications for losing the Eastern Conference's second seed are becoming clearer and more ominous.
With the Heat all but locked into the fourth seed, any slip and the Bulls' tenuous tiebreaker edge over the Cavaliers would vanish and a trip to South Beachor Shaquille O'Neal landmight loom.
The Bulls focused on the task at hand Friday night, capping a 31-10 home campaign with a 100-81 take-care-of-business victory over the wounded Charlotte Bobcats at a sold-out United Center.
Fast-food sandwiches for all!
If Knicks guard Steve Francis is wondering, Thabo Sefolosha's three-pointer with 3.7 seconds left pushed the Bulls' lead from 16 to 19. Does Sefolosha even know what's in a Big Mac?
"Yeah," the rookie guard said. "In French."
Moving to 16 games above .500 and reaching 48 victories for the first time since the dynasty days, the Bulls kept their grasp on that second seed, which would translate to home-court advantage for at least the first two playoff rounds.
The Bulls finished 22-4 at home against Eastern teams, no small statistic if home-court advantage is secured.
"One of our big goals was to establish something in our building so that going into the playoffs this wouldn't be a friendly place for teams to play," coach Scott Skiles said. "We feel we've established that."
Ben Gordon scored 20 points, Kirk Hinrich added 18 and eight assists and Ben Wallace contributed 12 points and 12 rebounds as the Bulls built an early lead, never trailed and held at least a seven-point advantage and, more often, a double-digit lead the entire second half.
Speaking of the dynasty days, Bobcats managing partner Michael Jordan didn't attend. If he had, he might have had to suit up; the Bobcats dressed only nine players. Bulls killer Gerald Wallace, Matt Carroll, Jake Voskuhl and rookie Adam Morrison all sat with injuries.
Walter Herrmann's 14 points led the Bobcats.
Do the Bulls feel pressure staying ahead of Cleveland?
"I haven't got that feeling at all," Hinrich said. "We're focused on one game at a time. We know Cleveland is right there. But we know our destiny is in our own hands, so we're just trying to take care of business."
The Bulls has assists on 28 of 39 field goals.
"I like the way we're moving the ball," Skiles said. "We look very unselfish right now, which is how you want to look getting ready for the playoffs."
This one looked similar to Tuesday night's victory over the Knicks, after which Francis complained the Bulls ran up the score in an attempt to reach 100 points and win fast-food sandwiches for fans in a promotion.
The Bulls led by as many as 16 while shooting 58.5 percent in the first half and led 56-42 at halftime after Wallace's fadeaway 15-footer with 0.1 seconds left. Wallace punctuated his rare display of range with a fist pump.
Tyrus Thomas, who surprisingly didn't play in the second half, exhibited the same maneuver earlier in the first quarter after Wallace offered another rarityplaying point guard on the fast break.
Wallace first blocked an Othella Harrington shot and then dribbled down to feed Thomas for a dunk over Harrington and Primoz Brezec, who fouled Thomas for a three-point play.
"I got that in my game," a smiling Wallace said.
As if the night wasn't positive enough for the Bulls, the Knicks lost and officially were eliminated from the playoffs. That means the Bulls will get the Knicks' lottery pick in June as part of the Eddy Curry trade.
Talk about running up the score.
Bulls 100, Bobcats 81