The Chicago Bulls have the best record in the East and second best record in the league. They're about to embark on a long road trip but shouldn't be tested too severely along the way. However, the trip starts off with a couple of true tests for Chciago.
The Bulls start things off against the Miami Heat. The Bulls will now look to play the role of the Pacers in Wednesday's game. The Bulls/Pacers game was a game that simply meant more to Indiana than it did to Chicago. Indy was trying to vanquish their playoff demons while Chicago doesn't feel it has the same rivalry with Indy.
The situation isn't quite reversed. The Heat likely understand they're looking up at Chicago in the standings and know they might be their toughest competition this year. However, the game, as a statement, means more to Chicago whom needs to avenge their ECF loss from last season.
More analysis to come tomorrow in a separate game preview.
After the Heat, the Bulls get a relaxing game against the Wizards followed by their second test, a road game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers presently sit in group of teams that will likely eventually be fighting for the third seed in the playoffs. The Hawks, Pacers, and 76ers each have six losses with the Magic sitting there with seven. Those four teams are the next tier behind Chicago and Miami in the East.
The 76ers present several problems that the Bulls struggle against. Tremendous perimeter athleticism and balanced scoring. Much like Miani and Indiana, the 76ers have the athletes to double team Rose and still recover quickly when he swings the ball.
It also remains to be seen how healthy the Bulls will be in either of these games. Luol Deng is expected to return to the court for the first time with a torn ligament in his left wrist, an injury he'll try to play through the rest of the season, while Rip Hamilton missed Friday's tilt against the Bucks after re-aggravating his groin.
Tom Thibodeau needs to be a bit more cautious with his players when they return from injury. Richard Hamilton played 38 minutes against the Pacers, a number which is simply too high while he's still fighting through an injury at his age.
The Bulls may need to sacrifice their best chance to win some games in order to keep the roster healthy this season.
The rest of the road trip simply doesn't seem too scary right now. Games against the Celtics and Knicks which seemed tough earlier in the season seem to present a much lesser challenge now, and the rest of their opponents are bottom feeders. Worst case scenario for Chicago should be a 6-3 finish.
That said, I expect 7-2 finish to the trip.