There are, mercifully, just two days left before the regular season closes shop and the bright promise of the NBA playoffs begins in full. All 16 tournament teams are already decided, but the seeding and corresponding matchups are still left up in the air as the season reaches its finish line. The Chicago Bulls are one of those teams still in limbo.
The Bulls are currently slotted as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, and a likely first round rematch with the Brooklyn Nets followed by what's likely to be a series against the locked-in 1 seed Indiana Pacers.
But the Bulls do have a chance at the 3rd seed, and there are several other possibilities still at play. Thanks to Blake Murphy at TheScore.com:
(1) Pacers, (2) Heat, (8) Hawks are locked, Bobcats can only get 6th seed in scenario where Bulls get 4th, so they're guaranteed not to face eachother.
Bulls win, Raptors lose, Wiz win, Nets lose both: (3) Bulls vs. (6) Nets
Bulls win, Raptors lose, Wiz lose or Nets win a game: (3) Bulls vs. (6) Wizards
Bulls lose or Raps win, Wiz win, Nets lose both: (4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards
Bulls lose or Raps win, Wiz lose or Nets win a game: (4) Bulls vs. (5) Nets
There are, I think, only two ways of looking at this.
The No. 4 seed would give the Bulls the easiest path to the conference finals:
Not that you need to be reminded, but the Bulls have been on the wrong end of a LeBron James curb-stomping in the playoffs two of the last three years (three of the last four going back to the glory days of the Vinny Del Negro era, actually). Even though 'three' is a number superior to 'four' in terms of seeding, it isn't hard to see that it's probably in the Bulls' best interest to avoid the Heat for as long as possible, and that's even before you factor in the problems the Pacers have been having since Jan. 1. Indiana is simply a better matchup for Chicago in that both teams play a slower, more physical brand of basketball and also because the Pacers do not currently employ LeBron.
All of that refuses to acknowledge the fact that, yes, the Bulls would still need to win a first round series against Brooklyn to make it to that showdown with Indiana. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to undervaluing the Nets' chances against the Bulls, but the numbers show a team that has been on a war path since the calendar flipped to 2014. Brooklyn is 34-15 in this calendar year, which is the second best mark in the East behind only ... the Bulls, are who 36-15.
The thing I can't separate myself from is the way the Bulls were able to win a Game 7 in Brooklyn last season when the entire team was battling a combination of polio and smallpox. This Nets team doesn't have its best player, Brook Lopez, either, and he killed the Bulls in that series last year. These Nets also don't have Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace, whose presence essentially allowed Chicago to play 'five on three' defense. In their place is Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko, who are the type of versatile, experienced, floor-stretching forwards that should give us some semblance of pause before advancing the Bulls in the bracket.
Last year's Nets were cowards (COWARDS). Say it to KG's face this time around, I dare you.
The No. 3 seed would give the Bulls the easiest path to the NBA Finals:
The NBA Finals! I know, it feels like an open lie just typing it. But hear me out.
The first round series against the Wizards would be easier -- possibly much easier -- than a first round series against the Nets. The Wizards would have a major athletic advantage in the backcourt over the Bulls, but they have a flawed roster coached by a man with a career winning percentage just below 37 percent. That is not good and neither is Randy Wittman. The Bulls can lose to the Nets in round one; I don't think they would lose to Washington.
Then there's Miami. I suppose the line of thinking would go: it's better to play the Heat "fresh" (or as close to it as possible) rather than after what's sure to be a long and tenacious series with Indiana. If the Bulls are going to have to go through the Heat anyway, might as well do it before half the roster is playing with welts because of David West's shoulders.
The trump card in favor of the four seed here might be Miami's health. If the Bulls were to meet Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, who knows what type of condition Dwyane Wade might be in by then. Wade has been in-and-out of the lineup all season, though Miami has been wise to rest him before the games start to count for real. Still, an injury to Wade or Chris Bosh remains within the realm of possibility, especially after two playoff series. For that reason, I think it's best to just take the No. 4 seed.
Well, that and the fact that I really want this matchup with the Pacers. I've been seeing this opinion lately (perhaps it's a minority opinion; perhaps it isn't) that the Bulls don't really have a chance against the Pacers. I find that a bit silly. The Bulls would be the underdog in that series, sure, but the Pacers have to prove they can overcome their own heads before they can beat any playoff team. Paul George started getting extorted by a stripper around the same time his game began to fall flat, and the second half of Indiana's season essentially devolved finger pointing and name calling. Roy Hibbert said they've got some "selfish dudes", which makes sense if you ever watched Evan Turner dribble aimlessly for 14 seconds of the shot clock.
The Pacers are just 15-14 since the All-Star break, which would make them the eighth seed in the East. I know. It's still a bit hard for me to believe too, because Indiana has a lot of talent. There's no denying their own vulnerability at this point in the calendar, though, which is why I'm all-in on a series with the Pacers in the second round, should both teams be #blessed enough to make it that far.
I have no idea if the Bulls can beat the Pacers. Heck, the Bulls might even lose to the Nets. All I know is I want the chance to see Joakim and Thibs whip Indiana after all the shit they talked this year. That series would be physical, dirty and possibly NSFW. I demand that it happens, and it only will if Chicago gets the No. 4 seed.