The Bulls return to action tonight after a week off. Having gone through a pretty serious swoon for much of 2015, they had a great final week, going on a 4-game winning streak (including one over Cleveland) heading into the All-Star break.
Here's a quick look at the East's not-terrible 5:
(srs is basketball-reference's rating)
A very clear goal is keeping a top-3 seed, to where the first-round matchup would be against someone who isn't these 5 teams. And it looks like the Bulls are poised to go on a run to do just that.
For one thing, everyone on the roster is practicing and available for once.
And the schedule looks to be in their favor. After Friday's game, the Bulls start a 7-game homestand. And their schedule looks fairly light the rest of the season. ESPN's rating for this, which they call 'a sophisticated model that factors in strength of opponent, location, distance traveled and rest', has the Bulls with the 2nd-easiest remaining schedule in the entire league.
NBA.com does something similar and appears more open about it, with a full breakdown here, and the Bulls come out favorably here too: a 3rd-easiest schedule in the league and 2nd-easiest in the Eastern Conference.
(sorted hardest->easiest, learn more at NBA.com)
So that's good news!
Of course, Thursday's trades could impact opponent strength in a way these models can't foresee. The Bulls will see that first-hand with upcoming games against the Pistons, Bucks, and Suns, all teams who will have very different rosters. The Bulls also play the Thunder twice the rest of the way.
And as we've seen so far this season, being at home against an easy opponent hasn't guaranteed an easy night for the Bulls. I don't think it's as much 'playing down to competition' as it's been this team having serious fundamental problems that keep them from being consistent. But better health and improved play from Rose and Noah will be the truly important factors going forward, and that seems to be heading in the right direction.