Last night while the Bulls and Celtics rested up and prepared for their match up tonight, they both received a little extra help in their race for seeding. Dwyane Wade rested a bruised thigh, and Milwaukee knocked off the Miami Heat. Carlos Delfino knocked down a couple of tough threes at the end of the game to pull out the victory.
The Lakers suddenly look human again and have lost their third straight game, falling to Golden State. With the loss, the Spurs clinched the #1 seed, and ironically, and while I'm not accusing the Lakers of throwing a couple games to make it happen, I look at the bracket and think the two seed is the better draw anyway.
I'd rather face off against the Mavericks in round two than the Thunder, that's for sure. Of course, with a few games left, there's a chance that the Thunder might pass the Mavericks to claim the three seed. The Mavericks hold the tie breaker and are up one game in the standings though, so it seems likely that they'll hold them off.
How does this affect the Bulls?
The Heat's tiny chance of getting the #1 seed is gone. The Bulls have a magic number of 1 against the Heat, and while anything is possible in the world of basketball, it's awfully hard to see the Bulls losing out and the Heat winning out the rest of the way.
The Bulls magic number against the Lakers drops to two. While the Bulls finishing 1-4 and the Lakers winning out is slightly more possible than the above listed scenario, you're still drifting well under the 1% chance barrier there most likely.
It also helps Derrick Rose in the MVP race
As much as Hollinger wants to talk up Dwight Howard, he's not going to win. Sorry, best guy on eighth best team doesn't win the MVP. He just doesn't. Maybe that's unfair, but honestly, I don't know that it really is.
The biggest competition to Rose in the MVP right now is Kobe Bryant, and if the Lakers had finished off their season with a climb all the way to the #1 seed in the west and even passed the Bulls, then Kobe might have some momentum going for him in the MVP hunt.
However, throw in a three game losing streak with a couple of head scratching losses at the end of the season, and those who were on the fence of whether to go Kobe or Rose are probably back in the Rose camp.
Magic number update
The Bulls have already clinched against everyone else (recently clinching against Dallas whom I never listed, because the idea of them making it to the finals is laughable, sorry Mavs fans).
The Spurs only have three games left, so it seems like a long shot that the Bulls can catch them. Even if the Spurs drop a game to the Lakers it would require the Bulls to win out to pull off the tie, and given their other two games are Utah and @Phoenix, I'd give the Spurs about a 40% chance of winning out with the only real threat is losing that Lakers game.
Can the Bulls win 60?
Sixty to me is a magic number of wins. A 50 win season is the bar for a good team. Once you win 50, you've gone past the point where it feels like it was just luck.
60 feels like the bar for a great team. It's not to say that there haven't been great teams who've won 55-59 games, but hit 60 and it feels different. While the Bulls probably won't catch San Antonio, I hope they can hit sixty wins.
It only requires a 3-2 finish, which incidentally, is the same finish that guarantees they finish that would lock them in as the #1 seed, though if one of those wins is against Boston tonight, then the magic number drops again, and they could possibly lose out and be the #1 seed.
How seriously do you take the rest of these games if you're Chicago?
A lot depends on the outcome tonight. If the Bulls beat Boston, they only need one more win to clinch the one seed and having already clinched against L.A., there isn't much reason to take the final four all that seriously.
If Thibodeau is considering switching up his lineup for the playoffs, then you desperately want this win tonight, and after that, you want to start experimenting with your lineups. The obvious switch is to shorten the rotation by removing Bogans, and it'd help the Bulls as a unit to pull him out now rather than to try it first against Indiana.
Whatever guys you're going to play together down the stretch, you'd like to give them some extra minutes together now. My guess is that Thibodeau continues to go 10 deep in the playoffs as well though, and we won't see any changes.
As such, my main goal would be to get Boozer and Noah playing together with continuity as much as possible. That's the lone other wrinkle that the team really needs to work out well.
The Bulls can't get complacent, not that Thibodeau would ever let them, because it was only a week or so ago that Miami and the Lakers looked like legit threats to overtake the Bulls.
However, a three game losing streak for L.A., and a couple losses to scrub teams for Miami and all of a sudden those teams aren't even threats anymore.
The Bulls need to come out and take care of business tonight against Boston.