Against all their own efforts, the Bulls found themselves in unfamiliar territory after splitting a weekend set against the Nets and Raptors. With a not-so-solid hold on the second seed, the Bulls must now fight off the temptation to suck for the rest of the season and take a violent tumble in the standings.

Friday night’s resounding 105-74 win over the New Jersey Nets at the United Center was a step in the right direction and even came without Bulls’ star center Ben Wallace or star trash-talker Tyrus Thomas. Both players sat out with “ouchy” tummies and “hurty” heads.

But the rest of the Bulls looked like they felt great–including Nocioni, who dressed but did not play–as they held the Nets to 34.2 percent shooting. Ben Gordon led the charge with 27 points and Luol Deng notched his team-high 16th double-double of the season, with 24 points and 12 rebounds.

Saturday’s game, on the other hand, showcased a Bulls team determined to show their true colors as they lost a 103-89 barnburner in Toronto. Not only did the Bulls blow their chances to pull away from the pack of teams jostling for position in the East, but the loss puts the Bulls a mere 1.5 games ahead of the surging third-seeded Raptors and tied with the Cavs in the Central.

The especially-sloppy game featured no Bulls highlights whatsoever, save for the return of forward Andres Nocioni after a 28-game hiatus with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. In his triumphant return, Nocioni made one three-pointer, blocked one shot, had one assist, grabbed two rebounds and shed 13 tears when he was removed after a little over eight minutes.

“I’m glad I’m back,” Nocioni said after the game. “It’ll feel really good to be able to go out and dominate something other than a plate of nachos for a change.”

Number of the weekend: 40,000+
Cubs fans at Wrigley today who have no idea the Bulls are the second seed in the East and poised to make a playoff run, but will not hesitate to give you at least three reasons why this year is the Cubs’ year.

Knicks watch
The Knicks are 2-8 in their last 10 games and falling fast. With six games left and three games back from Orlando for the eight seed in the East, the Knicks look ripe to rattle off at least four losses and take a spill past Philly and Charlotte toward the basement.

heckler editorial staff