As Bulls fans know all too well, the regular season championship doesn't matter. But it's not as if the Bulls are letting up their pressure in their lukewarm 2015: they're playing guys just as often (and as much) as ever, just not getting the results.
And the seeding and matchups is something to watch. If the playoffs started today the Bulls would have home-court against the Cavaliers in the first round. That's not optimal. But they don't start today! And the Bulls start a big road trip tonight in Oakland, playing 6 of their next 8 games away from the United Center before the All-Star break.
Here's how the East looks now, with the 5 good teams.
The Hawks, man. They've won 16 straight, and have already beaten the Bulls twice this year. The Cavs are still in that lower-half of the conference, but have seemingly woken up with LeBron 'refreshed' and integrated with their midseason acquisitions. They've won 6 straight, including beating the Bulls pretty soundly last week.
The Bulls have had the worst stretch of any of them lately, but both the Wizards and Raptors are near .500 in their last 10 so it hasn't been a lot of ground lost.
Let's hope that doesn't change in the next couple of weeks. All these teams look pretty healthy at the moment, outside of the Bulls who are missing their (apparently) stealth-MVP and have Joakim Noah still not looking near his best. It sounded like Dunleavy is close to returning, but we could've said the same a couple of weeks ago.
The Warriors start things off, and it doesn't get too much easier for a while, outside of a Lakers game this Thursday. There is a nice long break where the Bulls play just 1 game in a week before facing the Pelicans, Magic (tanking), and Kings (self-sabotaging?), where they can possibly get healthy and right before a showdown with the Cavs.
Since I'm mentioned the Cavs, let's take a look. That is a pretty soft schedule, and though 3.5 games is still a lot to make up for them to get into the top-half of the bracket, they could take a big chunk out of it here.
Our rivals the Wiz have a couple East showdowns, 2 against the Raptors and 1 against the Hawks. They also get to face Charlotte twice, who while playing better will be without Kemba Walker.
Toronto just seems like the most likely to drop, as though they have DeMar DeRozan back it never felt like their early-season play was sustainable. But they are deep and pretty talented, so maybe that's just a hope more than analysis. They have a fairly easy week-plus before a stretch against the Clippers, Spurs, and Wizards.
Nobody's likely touching these guys, anyway, outside of the looming spectre of a key injury I guess. They do have a couple tough matchups in here but nothing to suggest they'll be under-.500 in the period.