By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — With one game left in the regular season, a convoluted Eastern Conference playoff chase has crystallized for the Bulls. There are two paths for Chicago to reach the postseason, but only one will be on the mind of star Jimmy Butler come Wednesday night.
“Win at all costs,” Butler said. “No matters how it looks, at the end of the game, have more points than the Brooklyn Nets.”
This much all became clear Monday night following a laugher in Chicago and a thriller in Miami. The Bulls rolled to a 122-75 win against the hapless Magic at the United Center, with the 47-point win representing the third-largest margin of victory in franchise history. About 15 minutes after that concluded, the Heat held off the Cavaliers for a 124-121 win in overtime.
It left both teams with 40-41 records, with the Bulls holding the tiebreaker by virtue of a 2-1 advantage in the season series. If Chicago beats Brooklyn at home Wednesday, it will reach the postseason. The Bulls also get in with a Heat loss to the Wizards.
Brooklyn over Chicago and Miami over Washington would send the Bulls home without a postseason berth for the second straight season.
“When you come into this league, your goal is to make the playoffs,” said Dwyane Wade, who in his second game back from a fractured elbow had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting. “That’s what our goal has continued to be through it all, whether we was playing well, bad, whatever the heck’s going on. At the end of the day, you want to put yourself in position to make the playoffs. And once you do that, then a whole other season starts. What you want is to be able to control your own destiny to do that. That’s what we have the ability to do.
“If we don’t win the game, we don’t deserve to be in. Simple as that.”
When Wade signed with Chicago last July, he spoke of his desire to help return the Bulls to respectability. What that meant exactly, he didn’t say, but the playoffs have been on his mind all along.
That the Bulls may have to beat the the league-worst Nets (20-61) only seems fitting. Chicago rising to the occasion against quality teams while submitting duds against teams with inferior records has been a maddening, season-long theme. It was just Saturday that the Bulls coughed up a late nine-point lead against the Nets and lost, putting themselves in their current precarious state. In late December, it took a 40-point night and buzzer-beater from Butler for the Bulls to beat the Nets at the United Center.
“We took care of business,” Wade said. “We beat a team we were supposed to beat here on our floor, and that’s the same thing we’re supposed to do on Wednesday.”
Helping the Bulls’ cause is that they played quality basketball Monday. Six players scored in double figures, led by Robin Lopez’s 18 points. Butler had 17 points, and Jerian Grant added 17 points and a career-high 11 assists.
“Jimmy is just telling me to go out there and make plays, put the ball in my hands a little bit more and giving me confidence to go out there and really do what I do, which is make plays for people and really put the ball in the basket,” Grant said.
Grant started his third straight game with Rajon Rondo sitting out with a sprained right wrist, an injury coach Fred Hoiberg called “significant” and one that has left his status for Wednesday’s regular-season finale in question.
“Significant” would also be the appropriate words to describe the Bulls’ finale.
“I relish every moment I get to play basketball,” Butler said. “I just want everybody to lock in and realize how important that this game is. We’re not counting on anyone else. We control our own destiny. Win the game.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.