Over the past month, the Chicago Bulls faced a brutal schedule. In their last seventeen games, they had to face Miami twice, Dallas, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, Golden State, and Indiana twice. They held their own, going 11-6 over that time. Now the schedule eases up, and they can prepare for the playoffs.
The Bulls have 11 games remaining in the regular season. One more win (or one more NY Knicks loss) and they clinch a playoff spot.
In those 11 games, the Bulls will face only two teams that are currently over .500, the Portland Trail Blazers tonight, and the Washington Wizards on April 5.
What seed they get is still up in the air, as they are currently tied with the Toronto Raptors in the third spot, while the Brooklyn Nets lurk just 2 1/2 games behind them.
Now is not the time to ease off the gas. This, of course, is a team that refused to talk about tanking when things were bleak early on this season. They play hard every game, and I am sure Tom Thibodeau will not allow them to relax ahead of the playoffs.
What they will do is try some different lineups and rest some players so the team can be healthy. Last season, players were dropping like flies as the regular season ended and well into the playoffs. At one point, Nate Robinson had to play heavy minutes and did so while getting sick during timeouts.
This season’s Bulls have been relatively healthy (except of course for their leader), and head into the playoffs intact.
Having a player like Kirk Hinrich healthy will be key for this team. The team is so different with him in the lineup. He is a second coach on the floor for the Bulls. The offense runs smoother with him at the helm.
Last season, Joakim Noah had foot problems that kept him barely able to walk. Even so, he left everything he had on the floor and did not worry about his injury until after he played. This season he is having a career year, and his feet have not been a problem.
A healthy Bulls team can play the role of spoiler in this year’s playoffs. With all this talk about Pacers-Heat, if the Bulls face the Pacers in the second round, they can pull off an upset. This is a Pacers team that is struggling to score points, and the Bulls defense is second to the Pacers, allowing just 91.9 points per game.
The Heat are a bit more difficult to play, but they do not like playing the Bulls with their in-your-face, high motor defense. They are experiencing health troubles, with Dwyane Wade not being able to stay in the lineup on a regular basis and the Greg Odon experiment not really working. They are also getting up in age so there may be some tired legs dealing with the Bulls’ defense.
I don’t know if the Bulls have the weapons to beat the Heat, but they are always up to play against them, and they want to show how much better they can play healthier than they were when the two teams faced each other last season.
If the Bulls can avoid the injury bug over the next nineteen days, they may shock some teams in the playoffs. Even if they don’t, this team certainly did the city proud over the course of the season.