By Chris Sheridan
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Charlotte Bobcats are now locked in as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and will have nothing tangible to play for Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls, who will be fighting for their playoff lives.
But with so much at stake for the visiting team two nights from now in Charlotte, Larry Brown says he'll use his regular rotation -- although Gerald Wallace's availability will be somewhat of a question mark -- for reasons of integrity.
"That's too important to both teams. We owe it to the league to do the right thing," Brown said as his Bobcats earned their 44th victory of the season -- and the first postseason berth in franchise history -- by defeating the New Jersey Nets 105-95 Monday night in the final NBA game at the Meadowlands.
The Bobcats (44-27) can still end up tied with the Milwaukee Bucks (43-28), but the Bucks would have the tiebreaker by virtue of having the better conference record. That means Charlotte will open the playoffs this weekend against Orlando, which defeated the Bobcats 3-1 in their season series.
"Obviously they've got a great coach," Brown said. "What did they, go to the finals last year? And all they did was add Vince Carter. I know (Hedo) Turkoglu is great, but Vince is great in his own way, and they're a year older, and every day that Dwight (Howard) plays he's better.
"They're a team that can win the NBA championship because they have all those things going for them. But we've got to beat Chicago. We've got to play good against them."
Wednesday night's game against the Bulls will include the irony of Michael Jordan's new team trying to derail the postseason plans of the team he led to six NBA championships.
Chicago controls its own destiny with games upcoming against Boston on Tuesday and Charlotte on Wednesday, but if the Bulls lose either of those games and the Raptors defeat the visiting New York Knicks on the final night of the season, Toronto earns the right to get steamrolled by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
The Raptors, who defeated the Bulls 2-1 in the season series and thus own the tiebreaker, also would earn the No. 8 spot if Chicago loses both of its remaining games.
Brown said Wallace, the league leader in minutes per game (41.3), would likely play against the Bulls despite sitting out the Nets game with an assortment of bumps and bruises. Exactly how much Wallace plays will remain an open question.
"I think for the integrity of the league, we've got to have all of our players available. Tonight, I know New Jersey is not going to be in the playoffs, so I don't feel as bad not playing everybody," Brown said.