Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted: 10:01 a.m.
By Mark Schanowski
With less than a month left in the NBAs regular season, the competition is heating up for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It might come down to the Bulls-Celtics game at the United Center on April 7th, but then again, Boston coach Doc Rivers has already said he wont push his veteran starters just to get the number one seed. The Celtics have been to the NBA Finals in two of the last three seasons, and Rivers is confident they can win any series, even without home court advantage.
The Bulls, on the other hand, will go all out to get the top spot so they can avoid playing either Boston or Miami in the Conference semi-finals. Finishing 1st means an opening round match-up against a team with a losing record (either Indiana, Charlotte or Milwaukee), and a semi-final series against either Orlando or Atlanta. And, if the Bulls are fortunate enough to advance to the Conference finals, playing a potential Game 7 at home against either Boston or Miami would be extremely valuable.
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So, aside from finishing with the best record, what other goals should Tom Thibodeau and his staff have for the rest of the regular season? First off, getting some rest for Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. Those two players lead the team in minutes played, and theyre always on the court in crunch time. Knowing Thibodeaus desire to win every possession, its hard to picture him changing his rotation, unless the Bulls find a way to wrap up home court advantage before the final week. But any time off Rose and Deng can get down the stretch will certainly help them heading into the playoffs.
Secondly, the Bulls need to re-establish Carlos Boozer in the low post. Even before Boozer suffered that ankle sprain earlier this month, his offensive numbers had dropped significantly. The Bulls struggled to get the ball to Boozer on the block, and more and more of his shots became fallaway jumpers. With the emphasis on half-court execution in the playoffs, the Bulls need Boozer playing at peak efficiency again, so its important to use the final weeks of the regular season to get Carlos more touches so he can feel confident about his game going into the post-season. Over his career, Boozer has increased his production in the playoffs, which is a very encouraging sign for Bulls fans.
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Finally, we know Rose will play at an MVP level in the playoffs, but with opposing defenses geared to keeping him out of the paint, the Bulls need their perimeter shooters to play at a high level as well. Thibodeau is committed to Keith Bogans as his starting shooting guard, so forget about Rasual Butler becoming part of the rotation. That means the Bulls need to get more minutes for Kyle Korver, and more options for Deng to spot up at the three-point line. Ultimately, the Bulls prospects to advance in the playoffs will rest on their outstanding defense and their ability to knock down open shots created by Roses penetration.
So, what do you think? Is a number one seed crucial to the Bulls playoff prospects? Is Boozers low post offense another key to post-season success? And, are you confident Bogans will be able to knock down those wide-open 3s in the playoffs?
Feel free to post your comments in the section below. Were looking forward to a great stretch run with the Bulls, Celtics and Heat all chasing 60 wins, with the hope of earning home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.