Why the Bulls still have plenty to play for

Why the Bulls still have plenty to play for
April 1, 2014, 9:15 am
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Mark Strotman

The Bulls have won 20 of their last 30 games, including wins over San Antonio, Miami, Houston and Indiana, so they should feel comfortable heading into the second season; perhaps no team except Miami will head into the Eastern Conference playoffs with as much momentum, but seeding will play a crucial role.

If the playoffs began today the Bulls would be the No. 4 seed in the East, losing out on a tiebreaker to the No. 3 Raptors, the current Atlantic Division leaders. Miami would be the top seed, though the Heat are only percentage points ahead of the reeling Indiana Pacers, who have lost 10 of their last 16 games.

The surging Brooklyn Nets, winners in nine of their last 12, currently hold the No. 5 seed, while the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks round out the bottom of the standings.

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The Nets (39-33) are two games ahead of the Wizards (38-36), and if that lead holds the difference between the No. 3 and No. 4 seed will be major, especially for the Bulls.

Though the Bulls went 2-1 against the Nets and are 0-2 against the Wizards this season -- they'll face the Wizards a third and final time on Apr. 5 -- there's no denying the Nets are a more dangerous team in this year's playoffs. Led by Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce, the Nets are 29-12 since the calendar flipped to 2014 and have veteran, playoff-expereienced players that should make them a difficult out in the playoffs. Washington, on the other hand, has lost seven of 12 and likely won't jump the Nets in the season's last three weeks.

Looking ahead further, obtaining the No. 3 seed probably means missing out on the Heat in the second round. With the way the two teams are playing, it's likely the Heat will maintain their spot atop the East -- they play six of their last nine games at home. The NBA Playoffs do not reseed, so the 4/5 matchup would play the Heat in the second round (barring a minor miracle of Miami losing to either Atlanta or New York in Round 1) while the 3/6 matchup would get the Pacers. The Bulls match up far better with the Pacers, not to mention Indiana's awful play of late.

So that fight for the No. 3 seed will be crucial.

The Raptors play their next two games against teams with winning records (Houston and Indiana), with their last six games coming against sub-.500 groups. Their remaining opponents tout a record of 236-357 (.398).

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The Bulls have nearly an identical remaining schedule, facing just one team currently with a winning record (Washington). Their remaining eight opponents have a record of 236-355 (.398), so there isn't much of a schedule differential between the two teams. The Bulls, however, have just three home games left on the schedule, two fewer than the Raptors' five.

Because the division leader holds the tiebreaker, the Bulls will need to finish with a better record than the Raptors to jump them in the standings, even though the two teams split the season series and the Bulls have a better conference record.

No matter who the Bulls face in the first (or second round), all roads go through the three-time reigning Eastern Conference-champion Heat, so odds are they'll need to face both top seeds to come out of the East.