With Miami's loss to Boston, the Bulls are locked into the #1 seed in the East. The 76ers already announced they'll rest Iguodala, Brand, and Williams in the final two games prior to the playoffs. Who could say they're tanking? Players typically go out there and try to win games, and coaches tank games by just not putting the best players on the floor. Or so goes the theory...
However, it wasn't that long ago that we saw the Clippers and Grizzlies play head to head in a tank-off to see which team could fall from the five seed to the sixth seed. The five seed had to play Dallas while the sixth seed drew Denver. Dallas had the second best record in the west while Denver was only in position to be the three seed because they won their division. The Clippers won the tank-off, and made it past Denver to the second round while the Grizzlies were annihilated by the Mavs.
It likely won't get quite that sinister with teams Philly and New York as they don't go head to head the rest of the season in a game in which the winner would win the matchup they don't want, but make no mistake both teams want to play Chicago. Philly has the upper hand if they're willing to throw games and start benching anyone who's productive since they "lose" the tiebreaker with New York on the season record.
One more thing New York fans can blame Carmelo on, why did he have to play like a bad ass against Atlanta a couple of nights ago to drive the Knicks to a one point win?
While the Bulls locked up home court against the Heat, the question of home court against San Antonio and Oklahoma City still remains open. Chicago needs one more win against the Thunder and two against the Spurs. Personally, I'm not worried about the Spurs coming out of the west or the Bulls beating them if they make it out of the East, but the Thunder are just as stiff a challenge as the Heat.
Chicago has already said they won't rest guys because they want to get into a rhythm, but Thibodeau did indicate they might limit minutes, and it's certainly possible we won't see guys going all out, but rather working on specific plays, sets, or defensive rotations. It's a good time to whip out that zone defense for a couple of games in preparation for Miami later or just get Rip and Rose some playing time together.
Despite neither team having much to play for and no possibility of meeting until the ECF, the Pacers will likely be looking to make a statement tonight. I doubt the Bulls will aim to match their intensity, so it's easy to see a win for the Pacers. Chicago can pick up a win to clinch homecourt against the Thunder tomorrow at home against Cleveland or figure that homecourt isn't as meaningful (due to the different format) in the finals anyway and not worry about it.
Rhythm or rest?
You could argue the Bulls need both more than most teams. Derrick Rose is still likely not 100%, but the team also desperately needs to get some minutes with their key players on the floor together. At the same time, are they really building a useful rhythm if Rose continues to play his conservative Chris Duhon game rather than his explosive normal game in order to not take any chances?
The Bulls won't actually be building up a rhythm of how they expect/hope to play later which then begs the question why bother? At the same time, the Bulls certainly don't want Derrick Rose driving to the rim with reckless abandon in a couple of games with little meaning.
Chicago likely takes the middle ground playing starters for 25-30 minutes at half speed.
Road to the finals
I'll do some more in depth playoff stuff later, but a quick look at probable match ups, and things shake out like this:
1 Chicago vs 8 Philly (New York is very much alive here and could be the match up still)
2 Miami vs 7 New York (or Philly)
3 Indiana vs 6 Orlando (boy did Indy win the first round wuss lottery)
4 Boston vs 5 Atlanta (but Hawks get home court, since it's based on record not seed though if Boston wins and Atlanta loses in the finale home court will go to Boston)
Chicago likely goes through Philly, Boston, Miami to get to the finals
For those looking out west, it breaks down like this:
1 San Antonio vs 8 Utah (locked in)
2 Oklahoma City vs 7 Dallas (Dallas owns the tiebreaker with Denver so could move up to 6 with a win and a Denver loss)
3 Lakers vs 6 Denver (could drop down to 7 with a loss in their final 2 and a Dallas win)
4 Clippers vs 5 Memphis (clippers get home court with win against New York or Memphis loss)
I predict the Thunder come out of the West, but I think San Antonio has a nice draw right now getting either Memphis or the Clippers in the second round while OKC draws a tough Dallas team in round one, and a resurgent Lakers squad in round two.