Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Hawks (04.01.17)
CHICAGO -- The Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls are both fighting for playoff positioning and hope the momentum of their respective two-game winning streaks can keep them trending in the right direction.
With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Hawks and Bulls -- who face one another Saturday -- have discovered their own sense of rhythm.
Atlanta has maintained its spot among postseason participants by getting healthy at the right time. The Hawks, fresh off a 99-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night, got a big contribution from guard Kent Bazemore, who scored 19 points and hit four 3-pointers in 20 minutes off the bench against Philadelphia after missing five games with a right knee bone bruise. He also had four assists, four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot in an effort when Dwight Howard led Atlanta with 22 points and 20 rebounds.
Bazemore's effort proved to be big as the Hawks (39-36) continue to play without injured starters Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha.
"It helps that I'm easing my way back into things," Bazemore said Wednesday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Less is more right now for me. Making the simple play. Shoot when you are open. Take what the defense gives you."
Wednesday's victory snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Hawks, who remain as the Eastern Conference's No. 5 seed despite their recent struggles that halted with back-to-back victories against the Phoenix Suns and 76ers.
"I thought the level of play was good in those other games," Howard said Wednesday, according to the Journal-Constitution. "We just didn't get over the hump. It's something we didn't control. These last two games we did a better job."
Outside of injured guard Dwyane Wade, the Bulls enter the final seven games relatively healthy. Unlike Atlanta, though, Chicago (36-39) will enter Saturday's game on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The Bulls remain a half-game behind the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, who hold down the seventh and eighth seeds in the East, respectively.
A 99-93 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday gave the Bulls their second straight win as Nikola Mirotic paced Chicago with his second 28-point performance in three games. Jimmy Butler finished with 26 points and finished fine despite being poked in the eye by Cleveland's Iman Shumpert.
Butler conducted his postgame interview with a patch over his eye, which appeared to be more for show than anything else. But as the home stretch approaches, the Bulls need to maintain the groove they've found of late.
The Bulls have hit at least 10 3-pointers in their last five games and have come to rely on shooting from distance -- led by Mirotic -- as part of a game plan coach Fred Hoiberg prefers. But if the victories keep coming and the Bulls can play their way into the playoffs, how they get there really won't matter to Hoiberg or anyone else.
To keep their winning ways going, however, they'll need to snap a seven-game losing streak -- including three this season -- to the Hawks, who are vying for a season sweep. And as much as the Hawks need to keep winning to hold down their postseason spot, the Bulls need to do so and then get some help from others around them just to get in themselves.
"You kind of want to ignore it a little bit, kind of make it so you control what you can control, but I've had a wandering eye at times, yes," Bulls center Robin Lopez said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "Everybody is fighting for those last few spots. Everybody wants to be playing playoff ball."
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