Updated: March 30, 2007, 3:04 AM ET

Bulls bounce into No. 1 race

Answering a few questions after the Chicago Bulls' 83-81 win Thursday over the Detroit Pistons . . .

Bulls center Ben Wallace made a shot off the top of the backboard in the fourth quarter. Clearly, the new Starbury IIs he was sporting have special powers. Was Chicago destined to win?

What a shot. The look on Rasheed Wallace's face when it went in -- his head kind of drooped down. It's at a point like that you think something else is working here. When teams compete at the highest level, sometimes it's just the bounce of a ball in the end that's the difference. A very entertaining game.

He had 19 boards and six points. There's little about Ben's offensive game in Chicago that's worth TiVoing.

But he couldn't score when he played with the Pistons, either. The real issue is the growth of the rest of the Bulls' team. We don't know how good Chicago is going to be. You have to watch the growth of Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, the flashes you see from rookie Tyrus Thomas, the development of Luol Deng. That's why you saw how reluctant the Bulls seemed to be to pull the trigger on a deal for Pau Gasol. When you don't know the ceiling on your talent, making a big move is a danger.

An example of this dilemma is a player like Chauncey Billups. He was traded multiple times before it was clear he was a championship-caliber player.

Three years removed from their title together, Ben and 'Sheed seem to be enjoying their rivalry.

There's a bond you build when you go through winning a championship. There's a special bond that exists between Pistons players and Ben. However, the competitive spirit of both to win comes out on the court -- you're not just trying to beat a friend. It's a friendly competition, but still a rivalry nonetheless.

Chicago looks like it could be a No. 5 seed, and possibly face the Pistons in the East semis, right?

From the Bulls' standpoint, a No. 2 or ever No. 1 seed is not out of the realm of possibility. Chicago, now three games behind Detroit, put itself in a better position with this win.

Bulls rookie Tyrus Thomas had his moments, pulling down six boards in 15 minutes, sending home a late alley-oop. How do you see his development?

It's important that he's not so overwhelmed by the game that he forgets what it is he does well. His strength is his athletic ability. He can play to that, being an energy player, getting offensive rebounds, having an impact -- all while developing his skills. This game is not just about the stats. Ben Wallace has made a career of it. Tyrus can too, and he has more offensive potential.

Detroit nearly pulled this one out despite missing Richard Hamilton and Chris Webber to the flu bug. What's their biggest concern?

When I look at Detroit, the main concern in the days ahead is the effects of injuries. They're good enough to beat anybody when healthy and right. Will they be healthy enough to secure home court? A three-game lead with a good team is a huge lead, and I don't expect Detroit to lose four in a row.

ESPN analyst Greg Anthony finished his NBA career with the Bulls in 2002. Questions above posed by ESPN.com editor Andrew Ayres.

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Sharpest Point
Baron Davis
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
When he wasn't leading the Warriors' break, Baron Davis (21 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds, eight turnovers) took a break and cheered on his team's thrilling 124-119 win over the Suns.



What A Bargain
Steve nash

A sample of John Hollinger's call on the Top 25 best contracts, from the viewpoint of team ownership . . .

7. Steve Nash, Suns ($10.5 million)
Here's all you need to know -- the league's two-time MVP doesn't make the max. Far from it. In retrospect, I don't know what's more amazing -- that Phoenix was able to nab him at this price, or that Dallas thought the offer too rich to match. Either way, his bargain deal is the reason Phoenix has been able to pay its other stars and skirt the luxury tax ... at least for now. Nash is having his best season yet (47.3 percent on 3-pointers? With almost all of them coming off the dribble? Are you kidding me?) and is under contract for three more years, though the last one is an option year for the Suns. Hmmm & think they'll pick it up?

Full John Hollinger story



Missing You
Ben Gordon

Ben Gordon, an 87 percent free-throw shooter this season, opened the door for the Pistons by missing three consecutive foul shots in the final three minutes of the game. Amazingly, Gordon isn't the best foul shooter to have done so this season. Wally Szczerbiak (.897) missed three straight free throws in the closing minutes of a Celtics victory over the Trail Blazers on New Year's Day.

Elias Says


Records At A Glance



Bulls Take This Round

Bulls clinch playoff berth vs. Pistons


Rich History
Jason
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Warriors guard Jason Richardson takes aim for one of his franchise record eight 3-pointers (in 13 attempts, good for 36 points) in the 124-119 win over Phoenix.



Extreme Behavior
Zach Randolph

Thursday's Best
Blazers forward Zach Randolph: Piling up 43 points and 17 rebounds against the Memphis Tams, errr, Grizzlies, even in defeat, is worth noting. Nod to the Warriors and their 45-point first quarter.

Chauncey Billups

Thursday's Worst:
Pistons guard Chauncey Billups: Going 3-for-16 from the field was not what the doctor ordered with Rip and CWebb ailing. Pistons fall to the Bulls, 83-81.

Quote of the Day
"The crowd was really into the game. If the playoffs are like that . . . "
-- Bulls forward Tyrun Thomas, on the thriller with the Pistons.

Complete line score for every player

Playoff matchups if season ended now

Chad Ford's Lottery + Mock Draft

-- Andrew Ayres



Talkin' 'Bout Willis
Kevin Willis

How did Kevin Willis look in his Thursday audition for the Mavericks?

Two observations from Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson:

"He looked good."

"Body-wise, he still looks like he's in his young 30s."

Willis will complete Part 2 of his audition Friday before the Mavs play host to New York. But the initial signals coming from the team that would appear to need less help than any other team in the league suggest that we should probably get used to the idea of the 44-year-old joining Dallas.

"We came away pretty impressed," Nelson said.

The Mavs insist they're in no rush to make a firm decision on Willis, but they have grown increasingly intent on finding a third center with D.J. Mbenga lost for the season. Dallas doesn't want to be exposed on nights when Erick Dampier and DeSegana Diop find foul trouble.

They began looking at recent retirees after deciding that they didn't like the options available in the D-League, only to find out -- like Chicago -- that Antonio Davis intends to stay retired. Dallas didn't get much further with Brian Grant, either.

See complete Marc Stein blog




Players Who Bear Watching
twolves

Fran Fraschilla and Chad Ford break down NBA prospects in the Final Four. Plus, Fran picks who'll win the title and the tourney's MVP trophy.

Daily Dish: Association prospecting



Hoya Would Be Good Bulls Pick

Roy Hibbert

John Paxson (Ill.): Will I have the opportunity to draft Roy Hibbert, or will he be gone by the time I make our pick? He would fit in nicely, wouldn't he? Thanks for the inside info!

Chad Ford: He's a good fit for the Bulls. He can score in the paint and is a good passer out of the post. At 7-foot-2, he also will be disruptive defensively. However, he's not a dominant low-post scorer or rebounder, and I don't think he's ready to play right away, so he's not a cure-all for the Bulls. I think most of the guys who would be will be off the board before the Bulls pick.

See complete Chad Ford chat

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