With two weeks remaining in the NBA's regular season, teams are fighting for playoff positioning in the woefully bad — yet competitive — Eastern Conference.
Entering Friday's action, three teams are within two games of each other for the No. 8 seed, the Raptors and Bulls are tied for the No. 3 seed, while the Nets, Wizards and Bobcats, ranked fifth through seventh, respectively, are within four games of each other.
"There’s usually nine or 10 teams that are vying for something, and the thing that I think makes it so interesting is that you have a lot of teams that are going head-to-head this time of the year," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "So you see a lot of great games and everyone – you can see the intensity has picked up, there’s great games and everyone has to be ready."
The Bulls won't face the Raptors in this final stretch, though they do face the Wizards — a potential first round matchup — on Saturday. And while the Bulls are confident they can compete with any team in the East, they aren't worried about seeding as much as they are focused on heading into the second season with as much momentum as they can.
"From that 3 spot to like the 6 and 7, guys are really jockeying for position," Taj Gibson said. "We’re just trying to stay focused on getting guys ready, it really doesn’t matter who you play. It comes down to being crisp and getting ready to play.
BULLS KNOW BUCKS CAN GET HOT
The Bucks have lost 61 games this season and didn't even surpass the Philadelphia 76ers in the standings during their 26-game losing streak. They have lost 11 of their last 12 and are destined for the Parker/Wiggins/Embiid sweepstakes in June, but that doesn't mean the Bulls will be overlooking their rival to the north.
One of the Bucks' 14 wins this season came against the Bulls, back in December when John Henson scored 25 points in a 78-74 victory at the United Center. True, the current Bulls team is much different than that one (Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler were out with injuries), but Thibodeau won't let his team take any chances, knowing that players on the Bucks are still playing for plenty even though their playoff dreams were dashed months ago.
"You have guys that are playing for something. So either a guy’s playing for his career, might be playing for a contract, guys have gotten better, you have some young guys that are playing well," Thibodeau said. "Milwaukee has played a lot of teams real tough. We know better than most, they beat us in one game. So we know we’ve got to be ready."