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Bulls need to take advantage of life in the Eastern Conference

Thank goodness for life in the Eastern Conference.

Bad becomes average, and average becomes the Bulls.

“Well sure, it’s a very important point of our season,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said, as the Bulls ended a three-game losing streak with a 90-85 win over Indiana on Monday.

Not just important because of where the Bulls (15-16) currently sit in the standings, as much as what they can now feast on.

The win over the Pacers was just the first of seven consecutive games against Eastern Conference teams, with five of them being played in the United Center.

In other words, with a third of the season in the books, time for this team to start flexing some muscle if it wants to be considered a playoff team. Not a lot to ask for considering it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, with Toronto and Boston playing the role of pretenders. After that? Pick your poison. Any poison.

Even so, Indiana wasn’t going to just hand it to the home team.

After a first quarter in which the Bulls outscored the Pacers (15-17) by a 28-19 score and completely dominated them on the boards 16-8, it wouldn’t be Bulls basketball if they didn’t take a quarter off.

This time it was the third, as a 51-41 halftime lead disappeared in the next 12 minutes, as Indiana outscored the Bulls 20-12 and entered the fourth down just a bucket.

A script played out far too often by this group.

“You look around the league, and pretty much every team has gone through a stretch like we’re going through right now maybe with the exception of Golden State and San Antonio,’’ Hoiberg said. “Pretty much everybody has gone through some type of adversity. Some have fought out of it, and some haven’t. We got to be one of those teams that finds a way to fight through it.

“Again, I believe in these guys. I do. I absolutely do. We got to go out there and believe in each other, and they got to believe it can happen. That’s where it starts and again, getting back to the basics and doing what we were doing early that made us a fairly successful basketball team.”

That fight did show up in the fourth, and more importantly when it mattered.

Nursing a two-point lead with 1:26 left, Jimmy Butler did what Butler does best – attacked the rim and drew the foul. He made both free throws to make it an 84-80 lead. All-Star Paul George cut it to two, but Taj Gibson hit the mid-range jumper to keep the Bulls out in front by four.

With 45.3 seconds left, however, it was George again, getting the switch on Nikola Mirotic and draining the three. Mirotic would get his revenge, however, hitting a fadeaway jumper to make it an 88-85 lead with 21.2 seconds left.

Dwyane Wade would end Indiana’s night, stepping in front of an Aaron Brooks pass and taking it home for the emphatic dunk with 1.2 seconds left.

Wade led the Bulls with 21 points, as well as praise from his teammates.

“He’s huge, trust me,’’ Mirotic said of Wade. “On both sides of the court. Offensively, defensively. The defense he did the last few seconds [on the Brooks steal] was huge. It was a little bit of a risk, but he’s very smart. That’s not the first time he’s doing that. It was a great steal, a great finish, so there’s so many things we can learn from him.’’