This is it. The Bulls will either be on an early summer vacation or on the receiving end of an expected beat down in the first round to the hands of Cleveland. As it stands right now, the Bulls sit two games out of the seventh and eighth seeds in the East, behind a currently tied Detroit and Indiana. Both the Pistons and Pacers are sitting at 41-36, while the Bulls are a mere one game above .500 at 39-38. They win any tiebreaker with the Pacers, but lose against the Pistons.
These three teams have five games left a piece, and the remaining schedules for each offer interesting scenarios. Of the three, Chicago's playoff odds remain the dimmest, with FiveThirtyEight only giving the team an 8% chance. But with the way these three team's schedules are laid out in the final week of the season, anything can happen.
Let's take a look at the five games remaining for each team.
|4/5 - @Miami||4/6 - Cleveland||4/5 - @Memphis|
|4/6 - @Orlando||4/8 - @Toronto||4/7 - @Miami|
|4/8 - Washington||4/10 - Brooklyn||4/9 - Cleveland|
|4/12 - Miami||4/12 - New York||4/11 - @New Orleans|
|4/13 - @Cleveland||4/13 - @Milwaukee||4/13 - Philadelphia|
Much to fans dismay, but to the joy of the front office's playoff streak, there's still a very real, very small chance the Bulls are able to squeak into the postseason.
For Detroit, they'll face the Miami Heat twice in their final five games, and the Cleveland Cavaliers once. The Heat are fighting tooth and nail with Atlanta, Boston and Charlotte to decide seeds three through six, and all are looking to position themselves in the best possible situation to succeed in the postseason. And though they play Cleveland on the final night of the season, the Cavs will have likely clinched their seed (they're only one win away), meaning it's very plausible that most of their lineup takes that night off. With other opponents in Orlando and Washington out of the playoff race, it's highly likely the Pistons will secure one of the final spots.
Indiana has struggled mightily as of late, with no game on their schedule that can be called a "gimme" at this point. The Pacers may luck out in that they'll face a Cavaliers squad potentially resting key players (Cleveland faces Milwaukee Tuesday night, so it's potentially a clinching game where then they won't play guys on the back-to-back) as the playoffs approach. Same could also be said for Indiana's next opponent in Toronto. With the second seed locked up, it's yet another real possibility that the Raptors end up resting certain players ahead of the postseason. That being in mind, in addition to the Pacers finishing against Brooklyn, New York and Milwaukee, it's hard seeing this team fall out of the eighth spot even with their recent struggles.
Chicago is facing a number of significant injuries as the season nears its completion. Taj Gibson is currently out with a fractured rib, and it's hard to imagine even him being able to push through an injury as such. And Derrick Rose continues to fight a sore bursa sac in his left elbow. He's questionable for Tuesday night's game, but even if he were to play, it's unknown how effective he'll be, if at all. Then there's E'Twaun Moore, who tweaked his hamstring again Sunday night against Milwaukee. Listed as probable for the next game, nothing is for certain surrounding this team and its injuries.
Tuesday night in Memphis, the Bulls will be fighting a depleted Grizzlies team who is struggling in their own right to save a postseason birth. Even though Memphis has gone through 28 different players this season, it's still a well-coached Grizzlies team, and nothing is ever a given with the Bulls.
Two nights later in Miami may prove to be the biggest, and the most crucial game during this final stretch. Miami has had Chicago's number this season, and with what's at stake for the Heat, it's not an ideal situation. However, if the Bulls are able to pull out wins in their next two games, it will bode well for Chicago's playoff hopes. But, and that's a big "but," that's with the same hope that Detroit and Indiana falter during their stretch.
It should be noted, if there is a situation in which a three-way tiebreaker is necessary, here's how things would shake out. Hat-tip to BaB commenter Tornado13 for breaking this down from NBA.com.
"If there is a three way tie, the Bulls and Pistons would get in I believe.
b. More than two teams tied
1. Better winning percentage in all games among the tied teams.
2. Better winning percentage against teams in own division (only if all tied teams are in the same division).
3. Better winning percentage against teams in own conference.
4. Better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in own conference (including teams that finished the regular season tied for a playoff position).
5. Better net result of total points scored less total points allowed against all opponents ("point differential").
1. All teams are 4-4 against each other.
2. Bulls and Pistons have the same division record right now and the Pacers can't catch them. That puts the Pacers out. The Bulls and Pistons both only have one division game left: Cleveland. If one of the Bulls/Pistons wins and the other loses to Cleveland, the team that won gets the 7 seed. If both teams win or both teams lose, this is considered a partial break of the tie (Pacers are out). It then goes back to a two-way tie between the Pistons and Bulls and the Bulls lose the tiebreak and take 8th."
Woo, hopefully everyone was able to digest that.
It's now or never for this inconsistent, mediocre Bulls team to claim one of the final playoff spots in the East.