CHICAGO -- When the "Baby Bulls" enter MCI Center Wednesday night to face the Washington Wizards, they'll do so with a playoff berth secured -- a huge step for a team that started the season 0-9.
In the 1990s, led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and philosophizing coach Phil Jackson, the Bulls won six championships in an eight-year span and made the playoffs seem routine. Then missing the playoffs became the norm -- for seven straight years. In fact, Chicago averaged only 21 victories over the past five seasons.
Ex-Pacer Antonio Davis is one of the few Bulls with playoff experience as Chicago heads into the postseason for the first time in eight years.
(Gregory Bull -- AP)
_____From The Post_____
The Wizards can pull within one game of Chicago.
For the Bulls, the playoffs are a new experience.
Today, the Bulls (44-33) hold a two-game lead over the Wizards and the Indiana Pacers for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, which would give Chicago home-court advantage in the first round of postseason play. And though beating the Wizards would go a long way toward gaining the fourth spot, Coach Scott Skiles does not believe it is overly critical for his team's prospects. Away from United Center, Chicago is 19-19.
"We've been good on the road," Skiles said Monday. "Our guys have a little bit more of a competitive attitude when we are on the road."
Regardless of where they start their post-season odyssey, the Bulls enter the playoffs with little postseason experience. Veteran forward Antonio Davis has the most, playing in 87 postseason games. Only four other players likely to be on the postseason roster have played in the playoffs.
Davis, who was a mainstay of Pacers teams that consistently went deep into the postseason in the 1990s, said: "You just get overwhelmed with all of the attention. They make such a big deal, and it really is.
"The biggest thing is, you have to continue to do what you did that got you there," he said. "It is as simple as that."
Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich, key fixtures on teams that played in NCAA championship games, know that the pressure of March Madness is not quite the same as the grind of an NBA postseason.
"All the winning and success I had in college has helped me out to get to this point, but as far as the playoffs -- that is a completely different story," said Hinrich. "I've never been there, and a lot of guys on this team do not know anything about it."
"Nothing compares to the NBA playoffs," Gordon said. "It is going to be an experience that will be very new for this whole team. I don't know if any college championship game can prepare you for the NBA playoffs."
The Bulls will play against the Wizards with a depleted roster. Rookie forward Luol Deng, who averaged 11.7 points, is out for the season after wrist surgery Tuesday. And forward Andres Nocioni was suspended Tuesday for elbowing Tayshaun Prince in the head during Monday night's overtime loss to Detroit.
Fourth-year center Eddy Curry, who has averaged 16 points and five rebounds, has not played in the team's last eight games because of an irregular heartbeat. He will not play Wednesday night and his status for the playoffs is questionable. "We need Eddy back and need him to get in shape pretty quickly," Davis said. "But if we don't have him, we just have to go in there and slow guys down and keep guys off the boards and see what happens."
Even at less than full strength, the new Bulls are striving for some old-school attitude.
"Michael would come in and say three and out," Chicago assistant coach John Bach remembered. "The first round to him was a mission. It was, 'Let's get it over with quickly.' There was no mercy. He pushed and drove. Probably got him an extra couple of days to play golf."