It was right there for the taking. Either the Cavaliers or the Bulls were going to get it.
The Eastern Conference's second seed was a favorable alternative to the fifth seed, which is the best any other non-division champ could hope for under the NBA's playoff seeding rules. The second seed would be lopped into a portion of the bracket with the inexperienced Raptors, aging Nets and injury-plagued Wizards. The fifth seed would face the shorthanded-but-still-defending world champion Heat in the opening round and likely the conference-favorite Pistons in the second round.
The Bulls entered the day in the driver's seat, needing only a win over New Jersey to clinch the second seed and the easier road through the conference playoffs. The Cavs needed a win over Milwaukee and a Bulls loss.
The Cavs took care of business by dispatching the Bucks 109-96, led by LeBron James' 24 points. Cleveland ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak. Following the game, thousands of fans stayed to watch the end of the Bulls-Nets game on the scoreboard at The Q.
500 miles away in East Rutherford, N.J., the Nets controlled the Bulls for most of the game, bending but never relinquishing their second-half lead, relying on a near triple-double from Vince Carter (24 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and a few well-timed three-pointers from Bostjan Nachbar to beat Chicago 106-97, sending the Bulls to the fifth seed and a first-round matchup with the Heat.
Neither the Bulls nor the Cavs gained much of an upper hand from the outcome in the first round. The Cavs swept the depleted Wizards while the Bulls swept the depleted Heat.
However, in the second round, the Bulls fell behind Detroit 3-0 before losing in six, while the Cavs more or less controlled the Nets in a six-game series win.
Judging by the effort the Cavs would need to take out the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, the favorable seeding was a major factor in getting the Cavs to June.