Bulls to face Pacers in first round

Updated: April 8, 2011, 11:23 PM ET
By Nick Friedell | ESPNChicago.com

CLEVELAND -- The Chicago Bulls clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Friday night with a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, but there wasn't much celebrating going on.

Noah The growth has been formidable. Last year we qualified on the last day. And today, we are the No. 1 seed, and that feels pretty good.

-- Joakim Noah

"It's great," Derrick Rose said. "We're happy, of course, to have it. But we still got to keep things going. We got to keep playing good basketball and keep trying to get better."

Carlos Boozer said the top seed has been a goal discussed only internally.

"It's exciting," he said. "It's a goal that we quietly had. We didn't talk to you guys about it too much, but we kept it amongst ourselves.

"It's a goal that we were chasing and we're proud to have that goal. But we have other goals, too. We're not done with this thing."

Joakim Noah pointed out the improvement made from last season, when the Bulls qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the season.

"The growth has been formidable," he said. "Last year we qualified on the last day. And today, we are the No. 1 seed, and that feels pretty good.

"It's good to be a No. 1 seed, but at the end of the day we understand that there's a bigger picture. We're staying focused, but it's definitely an achievement, and we're excited about it ... And we realize if we come right, if we come with the right mentality, we feel like we can beat anybody."

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau stayed true to form and kept the achievement in perspective.

"It's the next step," he said. "We still have a ways to go.

"[The No. 1 seed] doesn't guarantee anything, but when you study the numbers, having a Game 7 at home is an advantage. You want to put as many things in your favor as you can."

This marks the first time since the 1997-98 season that the Bulls will go into the playoffs as the conference leader. That also was the last time they won an NBA title as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen captured their sixth championship.

The Bulls are one game behind the Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs.

Thibodeau said he'll only rest the players who are injured over the next three games.

"You want them to be in rhythm and you want everyone playing their best," he said. "The two things you're focused in on are you want to be playing your best basketball, and you want to be healthy. So if someone is injured, we'll sit them down. If they're not injured, they're going to play."

Noah may be one of the banged up players resting, and he joked about his coach's philosophy.

"It doesn't matter what I think about it," Noah joked. "This is a dictatorship."

Rose, who said it's fine with him if his minutes don't change, will lead his team into a first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, beginning either Saturday or Sunday in Chicago. The Bulls were 3-1 against Indiana in the regular season.

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.