CHICAGO(AP) Whether they're facing LeBron James or one of the other powerhouses, the Chicago Bulls realize they're in for a tough time once the playoffs start.
Even so, they'd love to avoid Cleveland in the first round. And if they keep this up, they will.
Ben Gordon scored 39 points, John Salmons finished with 19 after a slow start and the Bulls hit the .500 mark for the first time since mid-November with a 113-106 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night.
With the Bulls trailing 93-92 midway through the fourth, Salmons and Gordon hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the decisive 10-point run and send Chicago to its fourth straight win and 11th in 14 games. Derrick Rose added 22 as the seventh-place Bulls (40-40) strengthened their standing in the Eastern Conference.
Chicago moved a game ahead of the Pistons, 106-102 losers to Indiana, with two to play heading into Monday's meeting at Detroit. Win that, and the Bulls avoid the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with Cleveland. Then again, the alternatives aren't great.
"Avoiding LeBron will get us the Celtics,'' Salmons said. "Avoiding the Celtics will get us Orlando, so it doesn't really matter at this point.''
But if they get Atlanta?
"I wouldn't mind getting the Hawks,'' Salmons said.
And that's still a possibility.
The Bulls have now won 14 of 15 at home, and they're within a half-game of sixth-place Philadelphia. And, if you can believe it, fifth-place Miami isn't quite out of reach, either.
Chicago trails the Heat by 1 1/2 games, and with the fifth spot would come a series with Atlanta.
"The top three teams are really good,'' Gordon said. "I don't know if it matters much, but it would be a lot better to not play Cleveland. They've been playing really well.''
Matchup possibilities aside, a jump in the standings would mean the Bulls have the momentum going into the playoffs - and that's most important. But first, they needed to get by a team that saw its postseason hopes die the previous night in an 84-81 loss at Oklahoma City.
Raymond Felton (26 points) and Boris Diaw (24 points) kept the Bobcats in it for 3 1/2 quarters. Charlotte, however, committed eight of its 16 turnovers in the fourth, and the Bulls pulled away.
"I can't explain it because it's not like we're being trapped or pressed,'' Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "We just throw it all around.''
And Gordon and Salmons kept throwing it in the net.
Gordon was 7-of-12 on 3-pointers in the game and scored 13 in the fourth, while Salmons had 11 after three quiet quarters.
"Ben Gordon got a lot of open shots, a lot of good looks,'' Felton said. "Even when I was in his face, he still hit shots.''
Brad Miller hit a big one when he drove the baseline for a reverse layup to tie it at 92, and after a free throw by Emeka Okafor, Salmons and Gordon hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 98-93 with 4:30 left. Gordon then knocked a loose ball off Diaw and out of bounds along the sideline, and Salmons hit a free throw to make it a six-point game with just under four minutes left.
D.J. Augustin then coughed the ball up after a timeout, and Salmons buried another 3 at the shot-clock buzzer to make it 102-93 with 3:14 left. Finally, the Bulls could exhale.
Salmons is playing with a strained left groin and was just 3-for-15 through three quarters, although he said the pain wasn't a factor. He was just off.
He found his touch just in time to help lift the Bulls over feisty Charlotte, and the Bulls will need more of that the rest of the way. Now, they're in what looked like an unlikely spot not too long ago.
The were nine games below .500 in late January and were still eight under after losing at Philadelphia on March 13. But now?
They're at .500 for the first time since a win over Indiana on Nov. 15 put them at 5-5.
"We know we're playing for more than just to make the playoffs,'' Salmons said. "We want to try to move up as far as we can.''
Notes: The Bulls were 22-of-27 from the foul line after making all 19 free throws against Philadelphia on Thursday. ... Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said he went wild after Charlotte lost on Friday. Well, not exactly. "I went to bed,'' he said. ... After visiting Detroit, the Bulls finish the regular season at home against Toronto on Wednesday. ... F Tim Thomas missed his third game due to a family matter but is expected to meet the team at Detroit. ... Charlotte's remaining games are at New Jersey on Monday and at Orlando on Wednesday.