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Bulls finish with NBA’s best record

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(Lauren M. Anderson - landerson@nwherald.com)
The Bulls' Taj Gibson and the Nets' Johan Petro dive for a ball during the fourth quarter on Wednesday at the United Center.

CHICAGO – Bulls forward Ronnie Brewer learned the hard way that coach Tom Thibodeau wanted none of his players discussing the playoffs before the regular season was finished.

“He doesn’t fine you, but he definitely has a foul tongue,” Brewer said. “I can say it like that.”

Let it out, Bulls.

It’s finally OK to talk about the p-word.

The Bulls (62-20) capped an eye-opening regular season Wednesday with a 97-92 win against the New Jersey Nets. They finished with the NBA’s best record after the Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs lost to the Phoenix Suns, 106-103, to fall to 61-21.

That means the Bulls will have home-court advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs.

“It’s great,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “Sixty-two is a high number. We’re definitely happy about it, but not satisfied. … Now, it’s a new season.”

The new season will start at noon Saturday when the top-seeded Bulls host the eighth-seeded Indiana Pacers for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Thibodeau turned to his bench to close out the old season against the Nets. He inserted C.J. Watson at point guard, Kyle Korver at shooting guard, Rasual Butler at small forward, Taj Gibson at power forward and Kurt Thomas at center early in the fourth quarter.

Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and forward Luol Deng played only 4:14 apiece in the fourth quarter, while Noah and Carlos Boozer rested for the entire fourth quarter on the bench.

“It was the way the game was unfolding,” Thibodeau said. “I wanted to play our bench more and cut back on the starters’ minutes a bit. … We were looking for a break that could give us something.”

The Bulls’ self-proclaimed “Bench Mob” scored 50 points while the starters scored 47.

Some fans in the upper deck chanted “We want Rose” halfway through the fourth quarter, but those calls eventually were drowned out by cheers in the final minutes.

After an offensive rebound by Thomas, Korver found Butler for a baseline three-pointer to put the Bulls ahead for good, 92-90, with 46.1 seconds to go.

It was a play that the two had discussed during warm-ups.

“I told him before the game, ‘Swing, swing. When you’re in the corner, be ready,’ ” Korver said.

The Nets (24-58) played without star point guard Deron Williams, who underwent surgery on his right wrist earlier this month. His replacement, Jordan Farmar, led the team with 21 points.

Nets center Brook Lopez said the Bulls looked sharp heading into the postseason.

“They definitely have a chance to go all the way,” Lopez said. “With Derrick Rose running the team and playing as well as he is, they are going to be a tough matchup for everyone in the east.”

The Bulls ended the regular season with nine consecutive victories, which marked their longest winning streak of the season. They improved to 21-2 since March 4.

The Bulls also matched the franchise’s most recent title team in 1997-98 with 62 wins.

Thibodeau said he was proud of the regular season record but greater goals remained.

“It means we had a pretty good season,” Thibodeau said. “Now you start over again at 0-0.

“We have to understand how we got here. We took care of the things that we could take care of, and now we have to prepare for the playoffs.”

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