So the Chicago Bulls went 7-2 through the first nine games of the tough 20 prior to all-star break. It was a very good record, marred only by the two losses in games you would have expected them to win, but redeemed by victories in all of the tough games, the ones you thought they might drop.
I am quite pleased with the first (roughly) half of the tough 20, but is the second half an even worse stretch? Will Joakim Noah fit seamlessly back into the lineup? Here's a look at the schedule and where my expectations are for the toughest stretch remaining this season.
Feb 23rd: @Toronto
Feb 24th: Miami
Feb 26th: @Milwaukee
Feb 28th: @Washington
Mar 2nd: @Atlanta
Mar 4th: @Orlando
Mar 6th: @Miami
Mar 7th: New Orleans
Mar 9th: @Charlotte
Mar 11: Atlanta
Mar 12: Utah
You'd like to say that we could just book @Toronto, @Milwaukee, @Washington, and @Charlotte as wins, but the Bulls are 13-12 on the road and have dropped plenty of road games to mediocre teams. As such, it wouldn't shock me if the Bulls dropped one of those games, but I still predict a 4-0 record of that stretch.
We've then got the three home games against good teams; New Orleans, Atlanta, and Utah. I'll predict the Bulls grab two of those three games, and we add 2-1 on to the record putting the Bulls at 6-1 so far out of the games we've evaluated.
Now you've got elite team at home and the good teams on the road (Miami, @Atlanta, @Orlando), I'll give the Bulls 1-2 out of those two games, bringing us to 7-3.
Finally, that leaves us with the @Miami, I'm going to predict a loss there, giving us a 7-4 record over this stretch and a 14-6 record overall out of the tough 20 games.
Obviously, things could work out differently in any number of ways, but I think 6.5 and 4.5 feels about right for what I think the Bulls can do (ie, they'll finish 7-4 or 6-5). If they improve on 7-4 then I'll be extremely impressed, if they fall short of 6-5 then I'll be quite disappointed with 7-4 being the happy side of my expected range and 6-5 being my somewhat disappointed side of the expected range.
A 7-4 record puts the Bulls in great shape the rest of the season. It would put them at 45-20, but the remainder of the schedule is awfully weak. I predict the Bulls lose no more than four games the rest of the year putting them at 58 wins on the season. Unfortunately, 58 wins probably only earns the Bulls a three seed.