The Chicago Bulls are hoping to claim the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. It's not so long ago when the Washington Wizards were, too.

Chicago looks to wrap up/remain in control of that spot in the playoff picture Sunday when it meets a Washington team it could end up facing in the opening round.

A 19-7 record since the All-Star break - tops among East teams - has thrust the Bulls (48-32) into second place in the conference standings.

Chicago and Cleveland share that spot with identical records, but the Bulls own the tiebreaker because they have a better division record. Chicago's magic number for securing the No. 2 seed will be down to one if it wins on Sunday.

Claiming that spot is so critical because the Bulls would avoid falling to the fifth seed and a likely first-round matchup with the defending champion Miami Heat.

"We realize Cleveland's right there," Chicago point guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We realize our destiny is in our own hands and just try to take care of business."

It appeared the Wizards would have a good chance at the No. 2 spot just over a month ago, standing 1 1/2 games behind Chicago and a half-game behind Cleveland for the East's second-best record. However, Washington has stumbled, thanks greatly to season-ending injuries to All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, and now are just trying to avoid dropping to the No. 7 seed.

The Wizards are two games ahead of seventh-place New Jersey, but do not have the tiebreaker because they lost the season series. Each team has three games remaining and Washington's final two come against teams fighting to make the postseason - Orlando and Indiana.

Two days after beating Atlanta 98-85 to end a six-game losing streak, their longest in three years, the Wizards will look to stop their worst home skid in four years. They have dropped four in a row at the Verizon Center for the first time since losing their final five home games of the 2003-04 season.

The Bulls lost their only trip to Washington this season but easily beat the Wizards in the other two meetings, including a 105-90 win on Feb. 23 behind Luol Deng's 32 points and 11 rebounds.

Deng has cooled off this week, averaging 14.0 points in three games, but the starting backcourt of Hinrich and Ben Gordon has combined to average 40.3 points in the last four games.

The Bulls have won nine of 11 overall, limiting opponents to 90 points or fewer seven times in that span. They held the opposition below 40 percent from the field for the third time in four games Friday in a 100-81 victory over Charlotte.

Washington is the East's highest-scoring team at 105.1 points per game, but has failed to break 100 in three straight contests.

With Butler and Arenas missing, Jarvis Hayes is among the Wizards trying to contribute more offensively. He scored 20 points in Friday's win and had a career-high 29 in a loss at New Jersey last Saturday.

"I'm catching the rhythm at the right time," Hayes said. "Unfortunately with Gilbert and Caron down, I've had to step up. When both of those guys went down, the season started over for me."


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