Cleveland, Boston and Orlando might argue, but that debate will be settled soon enough. There's no denying the Bulls have come a long way in recent weeks, though.
The seventh-place Bulls reduced their magic number to one over Charlotte, which visits Saturday, and moved a half game ahead of Detroit in the Eastern Conference.
"We're the most dangerous team going into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference right now," Thomas said. "I wouldn't say anyone is counting us out, but we're the underdog right now. I think we're going to come out and shock a lot of people."
Thomas set a season-high for points while converting a career-best 14 of 14 free throws. He scored 10 in the third quarter and Gordon added seven as the Bulls turned a 50-50 halftime tie into an 82-72 lead, before pulling away in the fourth for their 13th home win in 14 games.
The loss was the third straight for sixth-place Philadelphia, which is stumbling into the playoffs after a late-season collapse a year ago. Andre Miller scored 20 points -- none in the fourth quarter -- and Andre Iguodala added 19 for the 76ers, who trail Miami by a game and lead Chicago by just 1½.
"They're tough because they're getting into a rhythm at the right time," Miller said. "They're moving the ball, sharing, playing well off each other, taking advantage of their shooters and their fastbreak with a quick point guard [Derrick Rose]."
The Sixers were ahead 61-58 before Gordon tied it with a 3-pointer five minutes into the third quarter to start a 20-6 run that put away the Sixers.
Both teams shot 52 percent, but the Bulls outscored Philadelphia 63-49 in the second half thanks to their unselfish play.
Rose had 16 points and eight assists, Brad Miller came off the bench to score 15, and the Bulls made all 19 foul shots.
"We know we can win games," Rose said. "We just have to come out and be aggressive from the beginning. We have a lot of confidence."
Now, they're on the verge of another playoff berth after a 33-49 freefall last year.
The Sixers appear to be in the middle of one again.
They clinched a playoff spot by beating Detroit on April 4, but have since lost by 29 at New Jersey and by three at Charlotte -- and have rekindled memories of last year's collapse, when they dropped the final four regular-season games and got knocked out of the playoffs by the Pistons.
They were disjointed and clearly seemed to miss Thaddeus Young, their third-leading scorer, in the previous two games but got off to a promising start against the Bulls.
While Young missed his fifth game with a sprained right ankle, the Sixers rediscovered their game and grabbed a 38-24 lead early in the second quarter.
It didn't last, though.
Trailing 44-34 midway through the quarter, the Bulls jumped back into it with a 14-2 run in which Gordon hit two 3-pointers and Rose and Miller each scored four points.
Gordon sandwiched his 3s around Rose's block on Lou Williams' layup, tying it at 46. And Brad Miller fed Rose for a fastbreak layup after a steal, giving the Bulls a short-lived 48-46 lead with about three minutes left in the half.
Two layups by Andre Miller put the Sixers back ahead before Thomas dunked with 20 seconds left to tie it at 50.
"Once they got their rhythm and momentum, it was difficult to stop them, especially with the home crowd here," Sixers coach Tony DiLeo said.
|Ben Gordon takes one of his game-high 19 field-goal attempts during his 24-point game. (Getty Images)|
|Chicago (39-40) «||22||28||32||31||113|
|PHI:A. Miller 20 Pts
PHI:A. Iguodala 7 Reb
PHI:A. Iguodala 10 Ast
|CHI:B. Gordon 24 Pts
CHI:B. Gordon 7 Reb
CHI:D. Rose 8 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|A. Iguodala, SF||42||7-15||3-6||7||10||2||19|
|A. Miller, PG||37||9-18||2-3||5||5||2||20|
|W. Green, SG||31||5-6||0-0||4||1||2||12|
|S. Dalembert, C||26||4-10||1-2||6||1||3||9|
|R. Evans, PF||23||1-1||4-6||5||1||3||6|
|M. Speights, PF||26||3-7||3-4||3||0||3||9|
|L. Williams, SG||22||6-11||2-2||1||3||0||16|
|T. Ratliff, C||13||1-1||0-2||2||0||1||2|
|R. Ivey, PG||12||1-1||0-0||0||0||2||2|
|D. Marshall, PF||7||1-3||1-2||0||1||0||4|
|E. Brand, PF||Did Not Play|
|K. Rush, SG||Did Not Play|
|J. Smith, PF||Did Not Play|
|T. Young, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|J. Salmons, SF||39||6-12||0-0||2||3||5||14|
|D. Rose, PG||39||8-13||0-0||2||8||1||16|
|B. Gordon, SG||38||9-19||2-2||7||3||3||24|
|T. Thomas, PF||33||5-10||14-14||4||0||3||24|
|J. Noah, PF||28||4-4||0-0||7||2||3||8|
|B. Miller, C||28||6-11||3-3||6||6||2||15|
|K. Hinrich, PG||26||4-9||0-0||2||2||2||9|
|A. Gray, C||6||0-3||0-0||2||0||0||0|
|L. Johnson, PF||2||1-1||0-0||1||0||0||3|
|L. Hunter, SG||Did Not Play|
|T. Thomas, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. James, PF||Did Not Play|
|L. Deng, SF||Did Not Play|
|A. Roberson, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|