CHICAGO (AP) — Jimmy Butler scored 25 points, and the Chicago Bulls beat the depleted Brooklyn Nets, 112-73, in the regular-season finale to clinch an Eastern Conference playoff spot on Wednesday.
Paul Zipser added a career-high 21 points off the bench as Chicago took advantage of a short-handed Brooklyn lineup to secure its first playoff appearance under coach Fred Hoiberg.
The Bulls finished at 41-41, as did the Heat, but Chicago grabbed the final playoff spot via a tiebreaker. The Bulls will face the top-seeded Celtics in the first round, with Game 1 set for Sunday night in Boston.
On Tuesday, the Nets, owners of the worst record in the league, announced Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez would be out due to rest, while Quincy Acy (ankle), Joe Harris (shoulder) and Sean Kilpatrick (hamstring) because of injuries.
On Saturday, the Nets defeated the Bulls in Brooklyn 107-106 behind Lopez’s 13 points and Lin’s 12 points.
The decision was controversial, especially with Miami, who needed the Bulls to lose in order to have a chance at the playoffs.
“I’m going to be honest as a competitor, I understand it, I understand the point of view that some of you have, some of the press has and maybe other teams, I do understand it,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said before the game.
“But again, we have to look at it from the Brooklyn Nets franchise and what is best for us and that’s how we’re looking into it in a vacuum. That’s my responsibility as coach.”
Archie Goodwin scored 20 points for the Nets and KJ McDaniels finished with 15.
Leading 14-11, Zipser sparked the Bulls with eight straight points as they coasted the rest of the way. The Bulls led by as many as 39 and never trailed. Zipser was 5-for-7 from 3-point range.
Rajon Rondo was back in the Chicago starting lineup after missing the past three games with a sprained right wrist. He had 10 points, six rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes and Dwyane Wade finished with seven points in 22 minutes in his third game back from an elbow injury.
Nets: Lin was unsure if Miami should be upset with the Nets’ decision to rest key players. “I don’t know. It’s interesting. I think everyone plays 82 games and each one is just as valuable. Not to say they don’t have a right to be upset, but I can definitely understand that, but we just played Chicago and beat them last week, I think that had to help them.
“I don’t know, I think you can look at it from so many different angles. I can understand why the fans would be a little bit upset, but if you look across the league every team that has an opportunity to do it and is doing it.”
Bulls: Hoiberg will continue to monitor Wade’s minutes. “There’s a chance (they increase). It’s all going to depend on how he’s feeling out there. I thought his timing was better in the last game, I thought he was moving pretty well.
“I thought he had some good bursts to the basket. It’s going to take time obviously, with as much as he missed, same as Rajon. So the big thing is to continue to get them comfortable.”
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.