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Bulls romp to close out regular season, face 76ers next

By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — The journey began with an improbable comeback victory — and one goal in mind — against the Lakers on Christmas Day in Los Angeles.

One chapter of it concluded Thursday night at the United Center where, before the Bulls’ 107-75 victory over the Cavaliers, Brian Scalabrine reminded all of that goal.

(PHOTO: The Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah (13) rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second quarter Thursday, April 24, 2012, at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls rolled, 107-75.)

“Banner No. 7,” Scalabrine said in a rousing pregame speech thanking fans.

The next chapter of this condensed, lockout-shortened season begins at noon Saturday against the 76ers, who dropped to the eighth spot and thus a first-round playoff matchup against the Bulls after losing to the Pistons.

The Bulls, who assured themselves of the league’s No. 1 overall seed, own homecourt advantage for as long as their playoff run lasts.

“We’re not concerned about records, seedings, standings,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We’re just concerned about doing the right things every day. The results will take care of themselves if we do those things.”

The Bulls took two of three from the 76ers during the regular season and will be heavy favorites to advance to a second-round matchup against the winner of the Celtics-Hawks series.

“They’re a very good team, very well-coached,” Joakim Noah said of the 76ers. “They have a lot of talent. We’re going to have to play hungry.”

The Bulls didn’t lose momentum despite sitting Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kyle Korver for “maintenance.” The Bulls started Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Richard Hamilton and C.J. Watson. No regular starter played more than Noah’s 30 minutes, 56 seconds. Boozer played just 14:31.

All 11 players who saw action scored, led by John Lucas III’s career-high 25 points. Scalabrine added the exclamation point with a jumper, then pointed out his shot came from the same spot where Michael Jordan sank his final basket as a Bull in Utah.

The Bulls shot 52.9 percent with just nine turnovers and 29 assists. Noah added his second straight double-double.

This season’s winning percentage of .757 narrowly edged last season’s mark of .756. It’s also the second straight season the Bulls have posted the league’s best record.

The Bulls also set a franchise record by allowing just 88.2 points per game. Is now the time to mention the previous record of 89.6 points got set in 1997-98, the last of the six championship seasons?

“We’re happy,” Noah said. “But we’re not satisfied.”

The Bulls also led the league in scoring differential, rebounds per game, rebound margin and second-chance points. They finished second in opponent’s field-goal percentage and third in blocks.

“We’re happy with what we accomplished, but we always feel we can play better,” Boozer said. “And we also want to be playing our best ball moving forward. We feel we can do that.”

And so a regular season that almost didn’t happen thanks to the labor woes ended as it began, in triumphant fashion. The Bulls won’t celebrate until a victory leads to a Grant Park rally.

“Our team responded to every challenge that they had,” Thibodeau said. “We still have a long way to go. This is what you play for. We try to build all the right habits to give yourself the best chance possible to win in the playoffs.”

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