Rondo or not, Bulls ready for last chance to earn playoff berth

Eighty-one was not enough. But if the Bulls can win game 82 Wednesday vs. the Nets, they can assure themselves a playoff slot.

If not, they could still sneak in with a loss by Miami.

But they’re embracing the opportunity rather than feeling the pressure, coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“The mood is good,’’ Hoiberg said. “You have to play your game. You can’t play tight. We have to do what has made us a successful team. We’ve won six of eight. We need to do the things that have helped us along in this stretch.’’

Chicago Bulls' Rajon Rondo

Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo has been fined $25,000 by the NBA for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder. | AP file photo

Hoiberg said Rajon Rondo, who missed the last three games with a sprained right wrist, is day-to-day. But the veteran point guard said he’s making strides.

“My health is fine,’’ Rondo said. “I played some one-on-one [Monday] and I fell pretty hard. But I was able to come out this morning and shoot some basketballs. I might [play].’’

Rondo participated in most of the Bulls’ contact drills in practice, Hoiberg said.

If he does play, Rondo said he doesn’t expect to be limited.

“Not really. It’s not as painful as it was two days ago,’’ he said. “I’m confident in my team, but I do want to play. I miss playing the game. I miss getting up and down. But I’m going to try to do the right thing for myself and for the team.’’

Although the Nets are last in the Eastern Conference, they have won four of their last six, including a 107-106 home win Saturday over the Bulls, who blew a nine-point lead with 4:24 to go.

The Bulls’ cause will be helped by the Nets’ reported decision to rest starting guard Jeremy Lin and  starting center Brook Lopez. Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy, Joe Harris and Sean Kilpatrick also will not play.

“We need to go out there with unbelievable focus,’’’ Hoiberg said. “They’re playing their best basketball of the season right now when you look at their recent stretch. They’re [the] fastest-paced team in the league. We have to get back in transition. We need to do a good job like last night of getting off to a good start and sustaining it over 48 minutes.’’

Based on their 122-75 rout of the Magic on Monday, the Bulls’ chances would seem good. But the Bulls have been full of surprises, from unexpected wins to startling stumbles.

“We were one possession, two possessions away from closing the game [in Brooklyn],’’ Rondo said. “We didn’t close the game the way we wanted to. We have to do a better job of closing games if we want to win. Every possession counts.’’

Jerian Grant has performed well in Rondo’s absence. In the last three games, Grant has averaged 15.7 points and 7.0 assists on 60 percent shooting.

But Rondo’s return would be welcomed by Hoiberg, who’s ready to deal with sorting out minutes at the point.

“You always want all your guys,’’ the coach said. “Rondo obviously was as key as anybody on this roster for turning things around for us. The pace that he generates and gives our team, when we’re struggling to score in the halfcourt. He gives us the ability to get the ball up the floor quickly. He’s been in pressure situations. He has won a championship.’’

That said, Hoiberg has liked what Grant has provided.

“Jerian has been terrific. He was as good as anybody on our roster [vs. Orlando] with the double-double, [17 points] and the 11 assists. That was the best thing about his game. He played simple, easy basketball. Defensively, he did a good job of getting his hands on balls.’’

But now, it all comes down to one game that could determine if the Bulls play in the postseason.

Are they a playoff team?

“We’ll see after the game tomorrow,’’ Rondo said.

Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould and at TMGcollegesports.com.

Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould and at TMGcollegesports.com.

RELATED STORIES

Bulls beat Magic by 47.

Rondo still sidelined with wrist injury.


Stories from around the web you may like