While it's appeared to be a two-team race in the East all season, the relative swoons of conference front-runners Miami and Indiana, not to mention the competitive race in the Western Conference has led league observers to believe that when the playoffs begin next month, things could be more up in the air than expected.
Count Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich as someone who concurs with that theory. The veteran floor general includes Portland, the Bulls' guest Friday night at the United Center, as a team with a shot to make some noise in the postseason.
"I think it's wide open this year," Hinrich said Friday morning, after the Bulls' shootaround. "There's so many good teams out there and they definitely have a lot of weapons."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau expressed a similar opinion, in regard to the East.
"When you’re looking at all the teams in the East, Brooklyn is playing well, Charlotte is playing well. Washington has played well. Atlanta has played well and then they got hit hard with injuries. When they have their team, they’re tough. I think New York is starting to come on. They had their winning streak," the coach said. "Everyone is capable in this league. You have to be ready for everybody. I think there are a lot of good teams in the East.
After the Bulls' triumphant home outing Monday against Indiana, there's been a three-day break, so the team has had to balance rest and practice time.
"Well, we feel like we've had our moments. Obviously coming off the big win against Indiana, we've got to come out and not take any steps backwards," Hinrich said. "We want to be playing our best basketball here, our last 11 games, so that's where our focus is."
Thibodeau added: "You have to maximize the time you do have. We had a stretch where we had a lot of games. I believe it was 18 in 31 days. Then you get a break and it gives you a chance to practice and clean things up. Hopefully, we took advantage of that time where we got quality practices in and clean some areas up that we needed to work on."