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Bulls earn fifth seed, first-round date with Brooklyn

Bulls guard Marco Belinelli (right) drives past Wizards guard A.J. Price during Wednesday's game in Chicago. The Bulls won 95-92.
Bulls guard Marco Belinelli (right) drives past Wizards guard A.J. Price during Wednesday's game in Chicago. The Bulls won 95-92.

CHICAGO – Tom Thibodeau said he wouldn't be checking the Hawks-Knicks score as the Bulls battled the Wizards on Wednesday night, with the fifth and sixth Eastern Conference seeds undecided.

Turned out he didn't need to.

The Bulls downed the Wizards 95-92 at the United Center, rendering the Hawks' loss in New York meaningless.

Their 45th victory despite myriad injuries – including Derrick Rose sitting the entire season – earned them the fifth seed and a first-round playoff series with the Nets that will begin Saturday at Brooklyn.

They beat the Nets three of four times during the regular season. If they advance past the first round, they would face the Heat-Bucks winner.

"I don't put a lot of stock in that," coach Tom Thibodeau said of the Bulls taking the season series 3-1 over the Nets. "They're really good. They're the higher seed so they earned that. We're going to have to be ready. They play hard.

"They have [Brook] Lopez, who is a low-post presence. You have Deron Williams and Joe Johnson off the dribble and a lot of other guys who are very good. They have size and quality depth."

While many teams rested their regulars in their season finales Wednesday, Thibodeau used a fairly normal rotation both because that's how he approaches all games and because of the seeding significance.

Jimmy Butler played a team-high 43 minutes. Carlos Boozer posted his double-double of 19 points and 15 rebounds in 38 minutes. Kirk Hinrich added 18 points.

Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli all played limited minutes as they continue to treat their nagging injuries, though Belinelli said his strained abdominal muscle felt OK.

Noah, who has plantar fasciitis in his right foot, failed to score with one rebound in 14 minutes. Gibson, who again wore a brace to protect the sprained MCL in his left knee, had eight points and four rebounds in 21 minutes.

"It's trying to strike that balance of getting them some work without having the risk of injury," Thibodeau said. "Whatever they can give us, that's what we want them to do. I thought Jo and Taj gave us a big lift just because of what they add to our team. The size, and again their versatility, is what makes them unique – the fact that when teams go small you can stay big. And they guard multiple positions."

The Bulls looked sharp early, scoring the first 10 points as the Wizards took 4 minutes, 19 seconds to score and leading by as many as 21 in the opening quarter.

But A.J. Price, who led the Wizards with 24 points off the bench, led a second-quarter charge that featured a 16-0 run.

Star of the game: Carlos Boozer, Bulls, 19 points, 15 rebounds

Up next: Eastern Conference first round – No. 5 Bull at No. 4 Nets

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