Vince Carter had 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and the Nets beat Chicago 106-97 on Wednesday night, costing the Bulls the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Carter and the Nets (41-41) clinched the No. 6 seed and will now have a first-round series against his old club, the Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors.
While Carter downplayed the series in a town where he is always booed, he ran off the court and almost skipped into the locker room, poundings walls along the way in glee, his jersey raised in glee.
"I was excited about the turnaround we've made," Carter said after the Nets won for the eighth time in 11 games. "This team has worked hard to get back into it and fight for the best position possible. I don't care if we lose, but the effort which we have played the last month, it's exciting. Going to the playoffs you want to be on an upswing, and it's great to be part of it."
Despite winning 49 games, the word frustrating was spoken by almost every player in the Bulls' locker room. They needed to win to clinch the No. 2 spot, but they didn't after playing and shooting poorly.
Now, the Bulls draw the defending champion Miami Heat in a rematch of last year's first-round series, which Shaq, Dwyane Wade and company won in six.
"We have to put this one behind us and get ready for the playoffs," Bulls guard Ben Gordon said. "There is nothing we can do about it now. We had our chance."
The Cleveland Cavaliers were the beneficiary of only the Bulls' third loss in 13 games. They get the No. 2 spot and will face Washington in the opening round.
Mikki Moore had 22 points and Jason Kidd added 11 assists and 11 rebounds for the Nets, who had plenty of stars in surprising Chicago. Bostjan Nachbar hit three big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and scored 10 of his 15 points. Josh Boone converted a go-ahead three-point play late in the third quarter to give New Jersey the lead for good at 71-68, and the rookie added seven of his 15 in the fourth quarter.
"We definitely wanted to take the momentum into the playoffs," Moore said. "We were not really worried who we would play in the first round. We were just trying to make sure that we were playing good."
Richard Jefferson added 21 points on 5-of-18 shooting.
Kirk Hinrich had 20 points and Andres Nocioni added 19 for the Bulls, who never overcame an early 15-point deficit. Gordon and Luol Deng had 15 points apiece for the Bulls, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.
Hinrich said the loss didn't put a damper on the season.
"We still had a solid year and came a long ways," he said. "We can't hang our heads about not getting the two seed. We have to try to shake this off and stay in positive spirits."
That might be tough.
Down by 12 at the half, the Bulls came out in the third quarter and made a run at the Nets, tying the game at 68 on a 3-pointer by Nocioni with 40 seconds to go.
Nachbar then found Boone alone inside for a dunk and he completed the three-point play for a 71-68 edge.
A layup by Gordon got Chicago within a point entering the fourth quarter. The Bulls stayed close for first four minutes, the last time at 79-77 on a layup by Nocioni with 8 minutes to play.
New Jersey responded with a 15-4 spurt that featured consecutive 3-pointers by Nachbar and a run-ending 3-pointer by Kidd, who like Carter played 41 minutes to get the Nets the better seed.
Chicago struggled from the field, hitting 35-of-83, or 42 percent. The Nets were 36-of-79 (46 percent).
- The Nets trailed the then-sixth place Washington Wizards by seven games on March 23.
- Deng fouled out. His first four fouls were offensive.
- The is the first time the Nets (41-41) were at .500 since Jan. 20.
- Carter was an assist shy of his third triple-double in seven games.
- Ben Wallace had 10 rebounds.
- Moore hit 8-of-11 from the field and led the NBA in field goal percentage at .609. He is only the third undrafted player to finish in the top five since 1976-77.