Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE
A quick look at the upcoming schedule
After a fun January and a frustrating February, the Bulls March slate has started off as a mixed bag. They split the weekend against two fellow Eastern Conference playoff teams. On the good side, they showed fight in both their previous two wins (and even their loss) to where it's not any suggestion that the team is too 'burnt out' on ThibsBall or the distractions of #TheReturn. But the physical toll of the season has been pretty substantial: though I figure the Bulls are off today and we'll get more of an official (or Thibsian, whichever) injury update tomorrow, there are known injuries for Rose (knee), Taj (knee), Noah (foot), Hamilton (back), Hinrich (abandoned well), Deng (mouth), and Nate Robinson (ribs).
And it's bad timing as the opponents aren't getting much easier. Pacers blog 8points, 9seconds (before the Bulls/Pacers game Sunday night) used their own adjusted (by opponents home/road record) strength of schedule algorithm to take a look at the East. By their numbers, the Bulls have the 6th toughest March schedule in the league (though that's down from 2nd-hardest this past month), and just a look at the schedule itself makes it easy to see why: the Bulls are playing a lot of teams from the Western Conference, starting with the Tony Parker-less Spurs on Wednesday. The Bulls have done better on the road than expected this season, but this is still going be a rough stretch for them.
Standings-watch will start to be more important as the season winds down, but only slightly. For one, the top eight are already settled and nobody currently in (sorry, you lunatic pro-tanking fringe element out there) is missing the playoffs. And Miami is so far ahead of every other Eastern Conference team right now both in the standings and on the court that they might as well be in a different conference themselves. So really, the only goal is not to be #8. You can figure maybe you want to be on the 'opposite side' of the Heat on a playoff bracket but it's probably not worrying about, as even strategic tanking is kind of icky.
The Pacers currently have a 4 game lead (plus the tiebreaker) over the Bulls, and a 23rd-ranked schedule this month. So combining all those factors, the Central Division crown may be ceded. Though, we can add an an asterisk if we want to peeve Pacer fans.
So that stinks, but all that matters (yo) is if the team is playing well in the playoffs. That means hopefully healthy, and maybe even with Rose really 'back', and what is nice is they have an extremely easy ten games in April, currently ranked #26 by 8pts9secs metric and that may be underselling given how in that time a Miami game may be useless for them, or some Eastern Conference basement-dwellers are truly tanking by then, etc.. So it may get worse than it gets better, but it should get better. Hopefully that's not just referring to the schedule but just the state of how banged-up this team is right now.