The Boshless Raptors fell to the struggling Boston Celtics allowing the Bulls to pull within a half game of them for the final playoff spot. The Raptors play Atlanta on Friday where Joe Johnson may make his return to the court after missing some time with a sprained thumb.
The Bulls square off against the Cavaliers at home on Thursday and have a back to back with New Jersey on the road the next day.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that Toronto loses their game, and the Bulls split their pair of games. Then the teams would face off with tied records of 38-41. If the Bulls were to win their magic number would be two with two games left to play while the Raptors would have a magic number of only one with two games left to play if they won.
On top of that, the schedule appears to be considerably in the Raptors favor as they finish up the season against the Knicks and Pistons while the Bulls play the Bobcats and Celtics. How hard will their opponents play? Who knows. The Pistons may need to lose a game to get more lotto balls while the Knicks have nothing to play for, but nothing to lose for either, so they may play hard.
The Celtics are presently a half game behind Atlanta, but they lose the tiebreaker, so there's a good chance their playoff position will be locked prior to the start of the game, and you have to believe an aging Celtics team is going to start resting guys as soon as their playoff seed is locked.
The Bobcats are highly likely to be locked into their spot for the finale, so it will just depend what they decide to do in their last game. While I doubt they want to get anyone hurt, they aren't a team that the coaching staff needs to protect for a 16+ game playoff run, so they may play out the finale at full strength to stay sharp or may opt to rest players.
If it were prediction time, I'd say both Bulls opponents are resting players down the stretch while Detroit is trying to lose to Toronto to secure lottery balls, and the Knicks play as hard as they can which may or may not make a difference anyway. Look for both teams to have an excellent chance to finish with two wins, with the Bulls having the much tougher schedule only if their opponents show up.
Of course, either team could gum up the works with an unexpected win or loss in the games leading up to the showdown.