Looking Good as They Look Ahead Bulls in Position to Make a Run at Eastern Finals

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Byline: Mike McGraw Daily Herald Sports Writer

When the NBA season began, winning 50 games and reaching the second round of the playoffs seemed to be reasonable goals for the Bulls.

After all, their top scorers were still young, the roster included no reliable post presence, and the Bulls just didn't seem ready to beat Detroit, Miami or Cleveland in a seven-game series.

Time passed and 81 games were played. Now on April 17, the Bulls are 1 victory from locking up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. If that happens, they wouldn't have to face Detroit, Miami or Cleveland until the conference finals.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have posted the best record in the East since the all-star break (20-8) and are 3-1 against the top-seeded Pistons, outscoring them by 35 points in the four meetings.

These Bulls bear little resemblance to the championship squads of the 1990s, but what seemed far-fetched in November has become a question worth asking: Can the Bulls win the East and play in the NBA Finals this year?

Frankly, the Bulls like their chances.

"I think I told you before the trading deadline, I thought this team, as it was, could compete with anybody in this conference," veteran forward P.J. Brown said. "I don't think a lot of people listened to me. It's up for grabs, man. The Eastern Conference, I feel like it's wide open."

Center Ben Wallace was signed last summer, in part, to bring some championship experience and swagger to the Bulls' locker room. After playing in the NBA Finals twice with Detroit, Wallace thinks the Bulls are on the right track.

"I like the way we've been playing these last couple months," Wallace said. "The rhythm that we've been in, how everybody's playing together. Everybody who comes in the game is contributing something. So I like our chances right now. I feel comfortable with where we're at."

Of course, it would help the cause if the Bulls are able to secure the No. 2 seed by winning Wednesday at New Jersey. The team with the second-best record in the East has advanced to the NBA Finals the last four years. None of those squads produced more than 54 wins.

If Cleveland loses at Philadelphia tonight, the Bulls will clinch second place. Otherwise, the Bulls need to take care of business themselves because the Cavs don't figure to lose at home to lottery-minded Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Because the three best teams in the East all play in the Central Division, the Bulls would drop to the No. …