TORONTO -- With two games remaining in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls once again control their own destiny. But just because they knocked off the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night doesn't mean they have secured a playoff spot, and coach Vinny Del Negro knows it. He knows how up and down his team has been all year and he isn't about to concede anything.
"We just got to win," he said. "We've got to focus in on Tuesday [against the Boston Celtics]. There's nothing easy. We know what we have to do. It's not going to be easy. We put ourself in this situation, now we've got to handle it. Tonight was a good step for us."
That's true especially considering the way his team played on Friday night against the New Jersey Nets, where they dropped a seven-point overtime lead in the last 70 seconds.
"I don't remember us playing in New Jersey," Del Negro said. "I just remember this game. That's how I approach it. You learn from the past. Like I've said, we have good character guys. I thought tonight we were efficient with the basketball at both ends. We executed well. Our focus from the get go was good.
"Of course, the other night [in New Jersey] was disappointing. But the guys have handled the adversity all season. And handled a lot of things that have been thrown at them with different situations. And they've bounced back. We've still got a long way to go here. We got to re-focus, get our energy back for Tuesday. Every game is like a playoff game for us. This was just one step in the right direction, but there's still a lot of things to handle."
With the win, the Bulls are one game ahead of the Raptors for the final playoff spot. If they win on Tuesday night against the Celtics and the Raptors lose to the Pistons, the Bulls are in. But since Toronto owns the tiebreaker, the only way for the Bulls to guarantee a trip to Cleveland for the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs is to win out.
That's the attitude that Derrick Rose and his teammates are taking heading into the last couple days of the regular season.
"We got to make sure everybody's on the same page," Rose said."We haven't done [anything] yet. We still got two games to play."
Rose bounces back: Aside from Joakim Noah's huge performance, the biggest difference maker on Sunday night was Rose. He came into the game having turned the ball over 17 times in his past three games. Against the Raptors, he made just one. He also scored 26 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed four rebounds. His mindset going into the game was simple. "Attack," he said. "Attack no matter what. Play like it's the last game. Going to the hole. Some of my shots were coming in and out. But I know a majority of them are going to go in. I know if I attack the whole game, I knew that it would get people open and everybody was going to play aggressive. That was my whole plan."
Even Rose had a hard time describing what the past three days have been like. "It's been crazy," he said. "I've been thinking about a lot of stuff. [Saturday] was great for me. Away from home didn't have to worry about anything. Just looking at TV all day. It's been up and down. But as long as it's up, we just got to keep it up here. We got two games left. We got to play every game like it's our last."
Keepin' focused: So, how do the Bulls make sure they play like they did on Sunday night against the Raptors and not like they did on Friday night against the Nets? "What's good is that we have Boston coming up," Noah said. "I think that's an easy game to get up for. When you're playing in front of 2,000 [people] in New Jersey it's a little bit different situation. We understand what's at stake. This was really important for us. We control our own destiny. We got two more to go. We just got to come ready to play against a tough team in Boston."
Bulls forward Hakim Warrick put it this way: "Come out and play the way we played [Sunday]," he said. "On both ends of the floor. Forty-eight minutes. I don't know how many assists we had , but just sharing the basketball. [Having] great ball movement. I think it's tough for anybody to beat us."
The last word: Guard Kirk Hinrich on the Bulls' ups and downs this season. "It's been kind of like that for us all year," Hinrich said. "We've had a lot of disappointments. I feel like we've let a lot slip away. But the bottom line is we felt we had a chance to come in here tonight to make the playoffs and tonight we made the most of it."