The Bulls are riding high after an emotional win over the Heat on Sunday, something that has basically become a March ritual at the United Center. The schedule doesn't ease up anytime soon, with three of the next four games coming against Western Conference elite. And before the end of the month, there are two games against the Pacers and a game against the Blazers. Luckily for the Bulls, all but one of those games are at the UC.
The Bulls currently own the No. 4 seed in the East, just a half game behind the Raptors, who lost in Brooklyn last night. At this point, it's basically a toss-up in the race for the No. 3 seed. Both teams have been playing extremely well, with the Raptors holding a 29-15 record since the Rudy Gay trade and the Bulls a 21-10 mark since the Luol Deng trade. The Raptors' schedule is a bit easier the rest of the way out, but again, still probably a toss-up.
While I can't see the Raptors or Bulls falling out of the top four, we can't count out the Wizards and Nets. The Wizards are the No. 5 seed and have gone 8-2 in their last 10 games, while the Nets are 22-9 in 2014 and just a half game behind Washington.
If the Bulls played either of those two teams in the playoffs, I would have confidence in a series win, but I'm almost certain they'd be six or seven-game series. The Wizards have beaten the Bulls twice this season, and John Wall, Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza form a pretty solid wing trio. As for the Nets, we've seen both the good and the bad from them in the two meetings since they actually resembled a real NBA team. I won't call them frauds like last year, because Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett bring an element that was missing from the team in 2012-13.
At any rate, I would venture a guess most Bulls fans are confident in winning a first-round series regardless of the opponent. So if they do, a second-round matchup against the Heat or Pacers would be up next barring something crazy. And while the Bulls have had success against the Heat in the regular season over the last few years, I'd really rather avoid them in the postseason.
So that leaves the Pacers. I was really high on the Pacers earlier in the year when they were suffocating teams with ridiculous defense and Paul George was looking like a bona fide MVP contender.
But the Pacers have looked like mere mortals recently, looking flat out bad during a four-game losing streak. George's hot mid-range shooting has come tumbling back down to earth, and one could argue Joakim Noah has surpassed him as an MVP candidate. I would probably make that argument at this point.
The Pacers' offense was never all that impressive, but it was covered up by a league-leading defense. However, that elite defense has taken a dive during the recent malaise. The Pacers are giving up 105.1 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star Break, per NBA.com's stats page, and Grantland's Zach Lowe highlighted how well Pacers opponents have been shooting from three. Roy Hibbert hasn't been his usual self lately, and he has been almost non-existent offensively and on the glass. But hey, maybe Andrew Bynum will help them right the ship!
With the Pacers scuffling, the Heat have moved just a game back of them at the top of the East, and both teams have 17 losses. The Heat couldn't take total advantage of the Pacers' issues due to their own three-game losing streak, but they're currently in position to possibly take over the No. 1 seed. That seemed extremely unlikely a month or two ago.
So if the Heat end up with the No. 1 seed, I'm rooting for the Bulls to get the No. 3 seed. If the Pacers get the No. 1, I'll take the No. 4. I still don't think the Bulls could beat the Pacers in a seven-game series, but it's probably a better bet than beating the Heat.
|New York Knicks||65||25-40||.385|