With the postseason just two weeks away, the Chicago Bulls appear to have an inside track at one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls look to bounce back from a couple of tough losses Saturday at the United Center when they open a favorable portion of their schedule against the New Jersey Nets.
Chicago (36-40) is one-half game back of seventh-place Detroit in the East, while Charlotte is just behind the Bulls for the final playoff spot.
Although it is very tight between these three teams, Chicago seems to have a bit of an advantage.
The Bulls open a four-game homestand Saturday and play five of their final six at the United Center, where they've won three in a row and 10 of 11.
The Bobcats play five of their final six on the road, including next Saturday against Chicago.
While the Bulls seem to have the schedule in their favor, they need to get back in the win column.
Chicago hasn't played since Tuesday's 107-105 loss at Indiana. The Bulls took a 103-96 lead with 3:46 left, but were outscored 11-2 the rest of the way.
The loss came two days after a disappointing 134-129 overtime defeat in Toronto.
"We need every win right now," Tim Thomas said. "To lose (Tuesday's) game is really tough for us. We just have to forget about this and take care of the rest of our schedule."
The Bulls hope the extra rest between games will improve the health of John Salmons, who sat out Tuesday with a strained left groin. Salmons is a key part of Chicago's offense, averaging 26.6 points on 57.0 percent shooting -- including 14-of-26 from 3-point range -- in his last five games at the United Center.
In Salmons' absence, rookie Derrick Rose carried the Bulls, finishing with 24 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Rose has combined for 43 points and 19 assists in Chicago's two wins over the Nets (31-44) but had only nine points and five assists in a 111-99 loss at New Jersey on Feb. 25.
Ben Gordon had 29 points in a 113-104 win over the Nets on Dec. 13, Chicago's fifth victory in the last six meetings at the United Center.
New Jersey arrives in Chicago after snapping a five-game losing streak with Wednesday's 111-98 win over Detroit.
The Nets had six players score in double figures, shot 51.3 percent from the field and had only nine turnovers to record their seventh win in 24 games. The victory came after embarrassing losses to Minnesota and Milwaukee, games which questioned the character of the players.
"I think this says when we play the right way we're competitive and also that we haven't mailed it in," said guard Keyon Dooling, who matched his season high with 23 points in his 12th start. "I think this was an encouraging win for us, a much-needed win for us and hopefully we can build some momentum."
The Nets can still make the playoffs, but a loss Saturday would drop them 5 1/2 games back of Chicago with six games remaining.
All-Star point guard Devin Harris had 19 points and 11 assists Wednesday. He's averaging 30.0 points in the three games versus the Bulls this season.