The Chicago Bulls accomplished several things last night. They tied the Spurs for the best record in the NBA. They went one step closer towards winning out on the season. They beat the last team in the league they hadn't yet defeated (only team to beat everyone at least once).
They also saw Joakim Noah retweak his ankle and Ronnie Brewer sprain his thumb. Brewer's questionable tonight, Noah said he was fine after the game was over. We'll wait and see if they play.
In theory, the Bulls have more on the line in the final game of the season than most teams.
A win, and they have a chance to steal home court from the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs play in Phoenix in their finale, and they seem content to rest players and see what happens. Since the game is in Phoenix, the Suns will come out with at least some energy for their home crowd.
Worst case scenario, a Bulls win forces them into a tiebreak scenario where the tiebreaker comes down to random draw. When you think about it, how ridiculous is it that it comes down to random draw? Why not go winning percentage against playoff teams? Point differential in their head to head? Point differential on the season? Something? Anything?
I'll never understand how you ever get to a tie break that's random draw, especially when the first set of tiebreaks is reasonably likely to end up tied (an east/west team always play exactly twice, so the odds of splitting are pretty high, and then you just have opposing conference record before going to random draw).
That aside, San Antonio clearly doesn't care about home court against Chicago and would prefer to make sure everyone is well rested into the playoffs. They may still win, but it's not their first priority. The Bulls prefer to keep momentum going and will look to win their finale which should be a cake walk despite the historical nature of the Nets beating Chicago in important games at the end of seasons.
Besides having the best record in the NBA (or at least a share of it) with a win, Tom Thibodeau would tie Paul Westphal as the winningest rookie head coach in the history of the league with a win tonight. Yeah, that's a coach of the year lock right there. I'm not sure how meaningful that record is, but you only get one chance to set records like that, so it's pretty cool that Tom's going to pull it off.
The Bulls should play home games on Saturday and Monday when the playoffs start due to the Blackhawks having games scheduled on Sunday/Tuesday. It will be interesting to see how the Bulls adjust to the playoff tempo as they seem to play better with more frequent games when they're in rhythm. I'd bet the Bulls would vote to play games in back to back pairs every night rather than having off days.
The rest of the playoffs
The East bracket is all locked up:
Chicago vs Indy
Miami vs Philly
Boston vs New York
Orlando vs Atlanta
The only possible upset I see is Boston falling to New York
The West bracket still has a lot of question marks
The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets are tied with a game left each. The Hornets go up against the Mavericks who potentially have something on the line with a win, so they'll likely lose.
However, New Orleans owns the tie breaker (better division record in the same division), so they'd only fall behind Memphis with a Memphis win and a loss.
Memphis plays the Clippers in L.A. which probably won't be an easy game because Blake Griffin will want to wow the home crowd and is young enough that he won't be throwing in the towel.
Does Memphis want to pass New Orleans though?
That question might depend on what they think happens in the rest of the night.
You see the Lakers are going up against the Kings, and unless they rest Kobe/Gasol, it seems fairly unfathomable that they lose this game, but after losing Andrew Bynum last night to injury, you have to think they might at least consider the thought.
However, if they lose and Dallas wins, then Dallas passes them for the two seed. I don't know that the Lakers particularly care all that much about playing Dallas on the road, but that's probably enough motivation to keep them in the game.
On the high end, the best teams would like to face New Orleans (presently matched up against the Lakers) in the first round. Without David West, they're not as good as they're record.
On the low end, everyone wants to avoid the Lakers and play Dallas whom people feel there's the greatest chance of an upset against.
If you're Memphis, would you rather lose and play the Spurs for sure or win and probably play the Lakers but have some chance of playing the Mavs? I think you try to win, because the only way you get out of the first round is against the Mavs even though it's highly unlikely the cards drop in such a way that you play them.
Given what's on the line for all the teams, I predict the West shapes up like this, but it's clearly in flux:
San Antonio vs New Orleans
L.A. vs Memphis
Dallas vs Portland
OKC vs Denver
The only upset I see there is Dallas vs Portland.
Like most Bulls fans, I can't remember the last time I've been this excited for the playoffs to begin. It's an odd feeling to get to a home stretch of games and not have much riding on them because you've got nothing left to prove in the regular season and everything that's meaningful already locked up.