NEW YORK – If the Toronto Raptors want that No. 3 seed, they’re going to have to earn it.
Thanks to 22 points and 11 rebounds from Pau Gasol, as well as 26 points from Nikola Mirotic off the bench, the Bulls ran Brooklyn off the court Monday night, beating the Nets 113-86 at the Barclays Center.
The win put the Bulls (49-32) a half game in front of idle Toronto for that No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings, but the Raptors have two games left, while the Bulls finish their season at home on Wednesday against Atlanta. Toronto owns the tiebreaker because the Raptors won the Atlantic Division.
Not that the Bulls walked away from the win empty-handed, securing home-court advantage in at least the first round of the postseason.
“You try to put as many things in your favor as you can,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There’s no guarantees because you have home-court that you’re going to win a series. But you’d like to have that advantage if you can get it.’’
Another advantage that’s nice?
A healthy roster. Or at least one that’s getting there.
Joakim Noah was a late scratch with tendinitis in his left leg, but Derrick Rose continued his return from right knee surgery – his third knee surgery since the 2012 playoffs – putting in 23 minutes and scoring 13 points on 5-for-13 shooting. It was Rose’s fourth-straight game since his return, as he continued to open up about the rehab road back from this latest setback.
“Hell,’’ Rose said of the six-week rehab he went through. “Because you got to do rehab over again. … So the game, that’s kind of easy. For sure it’s easy.’’
Made even easier when it’s a team like the Nets (37-44).
After going just 1-for-4 in the first quarter, the Rose Show turned it up in the second, scoring 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including 2-for-3 from beyond the three-point line and taking a 57-50 lead into the locker room at the half.
More importantly, there was definitely some vintage Rose moments, mostly made possible with the way Rose was pushing the ball up the court.
“It’s one of his strengths,’’ Thibodeau said of Rose. “There’s no one like him. He’s got the power, quickness, speed. It’s very unusual. I don’t know if anyone else is like him in the league. So what that does for your offense is it gets you easy scoring opportunities. He can force a defense to collapse when he’s attacking the paint – it doesn’t necessarily have to be the rim, but the paint – you’re going to get good shots. I thought he again did that. He had a couple of pull-ups that got him going and when he does that we’re going to be good.’’
And they were, especially in the third when they outscored the Nets 30-15, all but putting the game on ice.
“I’m just trying to push myself, remind myself every time I catch it just to put pressure on the defense,’’ Rose, who wasn’t even needed in the fourth, said. “I know that I hate to play against a guard that puts steady pressure on our defense, so just try and play the way I would normally play in the playoffs, and get my conditioning underneath me at the same time.’’