Thursday night a must-win for top-seeded Bulls?

After defeating the Phoenix Suns 97-94 at the United Center, the Bulls
improved to 57-20 on the season, and now boast an impressive 34-5 mark
at home, which is tied for the best in the NBA with San Antonio.

It
wasn't a pretty game by any stretch: The Bulls blew a 22-point third
quarter lead, were outscored 54-44 in the second half and got
outrebounded 43-41 against a Suns team that came into the night ranked
24th in rebounding.

"We want to win the game, no matter how good
we play, no matter how poor
we play, at the end of the day, we want to get the win," Bulls forward Carlos
Boozer
said to

ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell after the win. "I was proud of our
guys for shaking off a tough second
half and still winning the ballgame. You've got to take the good with
the bad. Yeah, we lost our lead. But yeah, we still won the game. We'd
rather win and learn and get better than lose and have to get better."

The
Bulls have been preaching a new motto lately: A win is a win. They
might not play their best basketball -- nor did Derrick Rose, scoring 19
points on 6-for-15 shooting -- but all that matters is the win.

Well,
they'll need to play their best Thursday night when they take on the
Boston Celtics in Chicago. And it's unlikely they'll get by with a win
if they played as lackluster as Tuesday night against the Suns.
The Celtics, who are tied with the Miami Heat for the number two
spot in the Eastern Conference at 54-23, haven't played up to
expectations in the second half, heving lost six of their past 10 games
before winning their last two against Philadelphia and Detroit.

They're
still in prime position to hold onto the number two spot in the East,
since they hold the season series with the Heat three games to none. The
two teams will have one more matchup in the regular season in Miami on
April 10th.

Although it's highly unlikely the Celtics or Heat
catch the Bulls for the top spot in the East, as we've seen before, what
happens in the regular season doesn't have a major impact on the
playoffs. Frankly, acquiring the top spot in the conference doesn't mean
anything come April, May and June, a month that basketball fans in
Chicago hope to watch the Bulls playing in.

Bulls Huddle.jpg

Photo from Yahoo! Sports

In basketball -- and
sports in general -- there's several cliches. Here's one: Statement
game. Analysts say it all the time, although most of the time it holds
no bearing as to what will ultimately occur.

Bulls. Celtics. 7:00pm (C.S.T.). National television
(TNT).

If that's not "statement game" worthy, then what is? Sure, it may
not determine the seeding necessarily, but if these teams meet in the
postseason, don't you think they'll remember the last game they played
against each other?

The Bulls, for one, aren't holding anything
back. They know the importance of this game; there's no blowing smoke
with this team.

"Playoff .... [The game will] definitely [have] a
playoff atmosphere," Rose said to the Tribune's
K.C. Johnson
. "(Wednesday),
we're going to come in and practice hard. Just put this game behind us
and just keep moving forward."

The game will certainly have a
playoff atmosphere. It's a matchup of two teams that could very well
face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals, and, quite frankly,
unless the Heat -- who are 0-6 against the Bulls and Celtics -- turn
things around, it's looking as if the team to come out of the East will
be the two teams facing each other on Thursday in Chicago.

Thursday
night is a must-win game for the Bulls. It's the game that will turn
nearly all the doubters into believers. Throw out all the cliche's,
Thursday night will be a statement game for both teams.

On the
flip side, if the Bulls lose to the Celtics at home on Thursday, it will
turn believers into doubters. The Bulls have already lost two of three
against Boston -- losing three of four would be dangerous come playoff
time. It certainly would put the Bulls in a bad position to play a team
that beat you three out of four times and has the confidence to do it
again.

A loss on Thursday wouldn't smash all the hopes for a NBA
Finals run for the Bulls, but it would give the slight edge to Boston if
they can win in Chicago on Thursday night.

The Bulls lost to the
Celtics in the 2009 playoffs in seven games. It was a hard-fought, epic
series, and ironically, it was the first playoff series for the
then-rookie Rose. He has been very vocal of remembering previous losses
to teams, using it as fuel and motivation.

Well, he'd better
start Thursday night and set the tone for what fans hope, a deep playoff
run.

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