The Eastern Conference hasn't piled up wins like the West has this season, but there's still a handful of teams battling for position in the regular season's final week. That includes the Bulls, and tonight they'll try and add another win to their record when they travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves. Coverage begins at 6:30 on CSN+ with Bulls Pregame Live, where Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue will get you ready for the action ahead. Then stay with CSN+ after the game for Bulls Postgame Live, complete with highlights, analysis and reaction from Tom Thibodeau and the team.
For all the warranted flack the Eastern Conference has taken, there are some fantastic battles going on for playoff positioning with a week left in the regular season. The East is just 161-254 against the West this season, an ugly .388 winning percentage. The Memphis Grizzlies, currently ninth in the West, would be third in the East, while 12th-seeded New Orleans would only be two games back of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the East. The three best records in the NBA (San Antonio, Oklahoma City, LA Clippers) and eight of the 10 best records reside in the West, with only Miami and Indiana having to show for winning percentages above .600 in the East.
Still, there are a handful of Eastern Conference teams making their move in the final month of the season that has the middle of the conference all bunched together. First, here's a look at the Eastern Conference standings and playoff picture:
1. Miami Heat (53-24, -)
2. Indiana Pacers (53-25, 0.5 GB)
3. Toronto Raptors (45-32, 8 GB)
4. Chicago Bulls (45-32, 8 GB)
5. Brooklyn Nets (43-34, 10 GB)
6. Washington Wizards (40-37, 13 GB)
7. Charlotte Bobcats (39-38, 14 GB)
8. Atlanta Hawks (34-43, 19 GB)
9. New York Knicks (33-45, 20.5 GB)
10. Cleveland Cavaliers (31-47, 22.5 GB)
Miami and Indiana already have the top two spots locked up and are jockeying for homecourt advantage throughout the East playoffs, though the Pacers' free-fall (they've lost eight of their last 11) suggests it'll be the Heat who wrap that up in the last week of the season.
The Nets have won 13 of their last 17 games to vault them up the East standings, and now have an outside shot at overtaking the Raptors in the Atlantic Division. In the same light, they also have a shot to move past the Bulls, which would mean home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Earning that No. 3 seed likely would mean avoiding the Heat in the second round, presuming Miami maintains its lead over Indiana.
The Bulls have a chance to move up to the No. 3 seed and avoid whichever team loses the Atlantic. That would be a far more difficult matchup than squaring off against the No. 6 seed, which will be either Washington or current seventh seed Charlotte, which sits a game back of the Wizards.
Tom Thibodeau's group is disciplined enough not to speak about which team they'd rather play, only noting that it wants to win each game and deal with matchups later. That will do the trick, though they'll need help from Toronto's opponents as the tiebreaker between the No. 3 and No. 4 seed goes to the division winner. The Bulls should be favored in at least four of their final five games, and their only opponent currently in the playoff hunt is Charlotte on Apr. 16.
Tonight the opponent is Minnesota, a team that has started off the month of April as hot as any team in the league. In four games since the calendar turned, the Timberwolves have knocked off Memphis, Miami and San Antonio, with an admittedly bad loss at Orlando in between. Though their playoff hopes were dashed last month during a 2-5 stretch to end March, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio haven't slowed their newly found momentum.
The Timberwolves are battling the injury bug, as shooting guard Kevin Martin, center Nikola Pekovic and reserve Chase Budinger all missed Tuesday's win against the Spurs. Still, they're playing well behind Love and Rubio and are 23-15 at home. The Bulls will need to slow down Love's outside game and not allow Rubio many transition looks to have a chance at maintaining their position in the East with a week to play.