The equation Wednesday night for the Bulls is simple: Beat the Atlanta Hawks and earn the East's No. 3 seed.
But that won't be quite as simple as once thought, as Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer revealed he plans to play his regular starting five and not sit anyone on the final day of the NBA regular season.
"We’ll see how the game goes but going into it, planning really to play everybody normal minutes," he said during pregame availability.
It's an odd move considering the Hawks have nothing to play for - having wrapped up the East's top seed weeks ago - and have sat their starters multiple times this month. One school of thought could be that Budenholzer wants his starters to regain some lost chemistry with power forward Paul Millsap, who has missed the last five games with a shoulder injury.
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Still, Budenholzer, a disciple of the king of resting starters in Gregg Popovich, wants to make sure his team is playing its best basketball heading into the postseason. At 60-21 and an eight-game lead on the second-seeded Cavaliers, the Hawks have done just that.
"We wanted to be playing well going into the playoffs and we wanted to be as healthy as possible. We’ve tried to balance those two things and it’s never perfect," he said. "But the group and everybody’s done the best possible and we’re looking forward to finishing tonight and getting ready for the playoffs."
The Bulls will be without Joakim Noah (hamstring) and Kirk Hinrich (knee). Taj Gibson was expected to play after testing his shoulder out in a pregame workout, and will start in place of Noah.
With plenty at stake for the Bulls in the final game of the year, Tom Thibodeau reiterated Wednesday that he's not focused on the different scenarios that could play out (depending on the Raptors' outcome tonight) but rather making sure his team has done everything they can before the postseason begins.
"Just thinking about tonight. Want us to be playing as well as we could play. The challenge has been the continuity thing and we're just going to have to find a way to get it done."