There are, somehow, just 13 days left in the regular season. The Heat and Pacers are tied atop the Eastern Conference, while the Bulls and Raptors are tied for the No. 3 seed. With only 6-8 games remaining for each of the four teams, the schedule takes on a heavy emphasis.
The Bulls have seven games left, four against lottery teams, two against the final two seeds in the East (Bobcats and Knicks), one against a team they may see in the first round of the playoffs, the Washington Wizards. After going 10-6 against tough March slate that included wins over the Heat, Rockets and Pacers, the Bulls will have relatively easy sledding until the start of the playoffs.
The Raptors also have seven games left, and play a big game Friday against Indiana. After that, it's a mixed bag the rest of the way against teams fighting for the playoffs (two games against the Knicks) and teams jockeying for lottery position at the bottom of the standings (two games against the 76ers, one against the Bucks).
Here's a look at what the Bulls and Raptors each have left:
The Nets are currently 1.5 games ahead of the Wizards for the No. 5 seed with a two game advantage in the loss column. Who would you rather have the Bulls face in the first round? I could see it both ways. The Nets have been on a tear since Jan. 1 and roll with a small ball lineup that's tough to defend. The Wizards would have a major physical advantage in the backcourt over the Bulls and have defeated Tom Thibodeau's boys in both meetings this season.
Not to look past round one, but I do think the Bulls would probably beat either Washington or Brooklyn in a seven game series, because of Thibs + Noah and Taj. When I check out the standings, I'm more concerned with who the Bulls might match up with in round two.
The Heat have eight games left. The Pacers have six. Here's a look at each team's renaming schedule:
I have spent much of this season believing the Bulls were toast in the second round regardless, but I'm starting to come around on the idea that they can beat Indy. That's why I'm not concerned about whether the Bulls finish with a better or worse record than Toronto, I just want the seeding to align with the Pacers in round two.
As our Mike Prada detailed yesterday, the Pacers have had a ton of trouble on offense lately. As Prada notes: "Since the All-Star break, only the woeful 76ers are scoring fewer points per 100 possessions."
So, yeah! Gimme that series with the Pacers. That would be a lot of fun, I think.