Erase any doubts you may have had about this Chicago Bulls team, because they appear to be for real.
Chicago battled back from a seven point deficit with less than three minutes remaining on Monday night in Detroit, to earn their fifth straight win over the fizzling Detroit Pistons, who are now destined to meet with Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.
Derrick Rose scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter for the Bulls, including a huge layup that he turned into a three point play to tie the game at 88 apiece. He also added eight assists, five rebounds, and a block that made the victory possible for Chicago.
After his three-point play, Rose blocked a shot of Rodney Stuckey's with 31 seconds remaining, and the Bulls immediately called a timeout.
On the ensuing Chicago possession, Ben Gordon drove the lane and made a layup that should have also sent Gordon to the line, and gave the Bulls a 90-88 advantage with 12 seconds remaining.
Rasheed Wallace missed on a three pointer to win the game, and Antonio McDyess also came up short on an attempt to tie the game.
Detroit is extremely unfortunate to have lost this game, especially as Chicago center Brad Miller had two technical fouls in the fourth quarter, and was eventually ejected from the game.
"We knew Detroit was going to play a physical game, but it is frustrating when it is called a certain way and you're getting smacked around," Miller said. "Luckily, he missed that free throw and Rose made a heck of a play. This guarantees we avoid Cleveland in the first round, and that's big."
Richard Hamilton was unable to connect on the second technical free throw, and proceeded to turn the ball over on the following possession.
Hamilton was the game's top scorer, finishing the game with 25 points.
For the Bulls, Rose led the way with 24 points, and was followed by Ben Gordon who scored 19, including the go-ahead layup.
Center Joakim Noah chipped in a double-double, scoring 11 points and hauling in 13 rebounds, while fellow big man Tyrus Thomas added 13 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks.
The Bulls won despite the poor shooting of small forward John Salmons, who finished with only 7 points on three of 10 shooting.
The biggest story of the night was the three-point-play of rookie point guard Derrick Rose, who is a lock to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year award.
"My teammates were telling me that this was a playoff game and we had to step it up," Rose said. "The three-point play was huge, but our whole team was fighting."
Chicago is really rallying behind the strong play of Rose, Gordon, and Salmons, and with one game to play they now lead the Philadelphia 76ers by a half game for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 41-40.
The ailing Magic have reason to worry. Chicago is playing their best ball of the year, and the new group of eight that head coach Vinny Del Negro is rotating has really gelled late in the season, while Orlando is simply playing terrible right now.
Chicago will finish the regular season with a home game against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, and Del Negro will undoubtedly have his players out there to win given the playoff implications the game could have.
A win could be the difference between a first round bout with the reigning champion Boston Celtics, or the struggling Orlando Magic.