It was a balmy spring evening and playoff positioning was at stake in a nationally televised game.
Fans of the championship Bulls of the '90s could identify with the playoff atmosphere Friday night at the United Center.
"This is good for us," coach Scott Skiles said. "It has been a long time since the Bulls have been certainly in [the playoffs] or certainly out. I don't know when the last time was it has gone down to the end like this for the Bulls.
"I have said all year that I believe we are a playoff team. I am going to continue to believe that until I am proved right or wrong."
To be certain, these are not the same championship-caliber Bulls of the Michael Jordan Era, but their passion to advance to the postseason appeared no less evident in a 103-101 triumph over reeling Washington, which dropped its fifth straight game.
Another furious fourth-quarter rally gave the Bulls (38-41) a one-game advantage over the Philadelphia 76ers for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race with three games remaining. The Sixers lost 104-85 to Miami on Friday night.
Ben Gordon led a furious comeback with 15 fourth-quarter points. He finished with 32. Kirk Hinrich (19), Andres Nocioni (17) and Luol Deng (16) followed in double figures.
Gordon connected on 9 of 9 three-point shots to tie the NBA record for most three-pointers made in a single game without a miss set by Latrell Sprewell (then with the Knicks), who did it in a game Feb. 4, 2003, against the Clippers.
"I didn't know how many threes I had, honestly," Gordon said. "And I didn't know that I didn't miss or anything. I was just letting them ride."
The Bulls, who improved their home record to 20-20, trailed 56-48 at the half before clawing back to take a 90-87 lead with 6:45 remaining in the fourth quarter on a three-point shot by Nocioni. A 14-0 run helped the Bulls get back in the game.
Gordon's three-point shot with 54 seconds remaining gave the Bulls the 103-101 lead. The Wizards had an opportunity for a tying basket on a breakaway by Jared Jeffries, but he was called for an offensive foul when Nocioni took the charge with just 4/10ths of a second left.
"I saw [Nocioni] pedaling," Jeffries said. "I could have stopped and called a timeout, but I thought I had a chance to possibly get a three-point play. That's just how the calls go. As I went down the court I felt [Nocioni] was out of position. That's why I took it to the basket."
Gilbert Arenas led all scorers with 36 points. It was his 40th game with 30 or more points this season.
"I felt like we were a little off for quite awhile tonight, but we were able to stay close enough and Ben kept us in it offensively," Skiles said. "Then we had a really nice stretch, got the lead and we were able to hold them."
The Bulls' remaining games are at Miami on Sunday, at Orlando on Monday and at home against Toronto on Wednesday.
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