Bulls first team to wrap up playoff berth


Pacers forward accuses Rodman of head-butt

Box score | Game recap | Game Flow

CHICAGO -- Michael Jordan scored 38 points and Scottie Pippen added 24 points and nine assists Friday as the Chicago Bulls beat the Indiana Pacers 104-96 and became the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season.

Chicago's Dennis Rodman, who grabbed 18 rebounds, returned after serving his one-game suspension for hitting Milwaukee's Joe Wolf in the groin.

Michael Jordan plays "Hide The Basketball" with Rik Smits.

"It looked like two different ball games out there tonight," Jordan said. "The first half, everybody had pretty good rhythm. The second half, the refs were calling it tight and most of the scoring was done from the line."

Chicago (53-7) improved to 30-1 at home and 17-3 against Central Division foes. The Bulls are one win off their pace of last season, when they set the NBA single-season record with a 72-10 mark.

"This is the time of the year when games get difficult to win," Jordan said. "We certainly control our own destiny. This was a good game for us to get prepared for our matchup in New York on Sunday."

Reggie Miller scored 27 points and Rik Smits added 22 for the Pacers, who have lost two in a row following a four-game winning streak. The Pacers also have lost six of their last seven meetings at Chicago.

"It proved to be as intense a game as we anticipated," Chicago coach Phil Jackson said. "Indiana played hard, but we found a way to get the lead and hold on to it.

"With a game coming up against the Knicks on Sunday, this game was probably good preparation for what we can expect against the Knicks. Tonight it was Smits; Sunday it will be Patrick Ewing."

Indiana ended the first half with a 10-2 run, trimming Chicago's lead to 60-51.

"I think both teams played hard," Smits said. "I can find no flaw with our effort. The difference in the game was that they came up with more loose balls and hit the big shots down the stretch.

"One of the few ways to beat the Bulls is to take advantage of them in the low post. We did that a little in the first half, but weren't able to take advantage in the second half."

The Pacers got no closer than seven points in the second half. Mark Jackson's 3-pointer cut the deficit to 71-64 with 4:23 left in the third quarter. Ron Harper answered with a 3-pointer eight seconds later to give Chicago a 74-64 advantage.

Travis Best opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer as Indiana pulled within 81-74 with 11 minutes left. But Steve Kerr's 16-footer restored Chicago's nine-point advantage on the next possession.

"The second half, both teams were taking away each other's first and second options," Miller said. "It forced us into taking some bad shots, myself included."

Harper had 11 points and five assists for Chicago, and Luc Longley added 14 points and six rebounds.

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