The Chicago Bulls have fallen to sixth and are a game back of Atlanta with two to play. The Hawks play a Raptors team that's playing like it gives a crap followed by a Knicks team that will likely be in full rest mode. If the Bulls are to have a chance at passing Atlanta, it's likely because Atlanta blows it to the Raptors followed by the Bulls winning out.
That said, unless Gibson/Noah suit up, don't count on the Bulls winning out either. Chicago's shown that when missing their two best players overall (Rose Noah), and their two best front court (and only interior defenders) players (Noah/Gibson) then they aren't really much of a team to go up against.
The Bulls will certainly fight hard, play hard, and give it a go, but this is a team predicated by interior defense running a front court rotation of Vlad, Nazr, and Boozer. Not one of the three can defend to save their life. They just don't have the horses to run their schemes, and when they've stayed in games it's been because they've had more offense going.
Chicago gets the easier of their two remaining games tonight against the Orlando Magic. Neither the Magic or Wizards have anything left to play for, but the Wizards are playing for pride since John Wall returned while the Magic are playing to end their season. A loss tonight effectively ends the Bulls pursuit for 5th.
As for a drop to sixth, it's not the worst thing for Chicago.
If Noah/Gibson can return for the playoffs [and I believe there's an underlying assumption with the Bulls that the pair can return, but Chicago wants to rest them as much as possible] then the Bulls and Pacers match up relatively evenly. I give Indiana an advantage over Chicago, but not a mammoth "there's no way in hell we can over come that" dominant type advantage.
Both teams match up fairly evenly position by position when Rose is out, so Chicago will need a little luck and some hot shooting to win the series, but it's certainly well within the realm of possibility. If Chicago does manage to beat the Pacers, they draw the Knicks, whom they swept in the regular season and match up well against, or the Celtics, who simply suck ass.
While getting out of the 1st round without Rose will be a struggle, if they pull it off, they'll have a solid shot at getting to the second round and playing through the ECF. In that sense, it's a positive to land in sixth.
No real word on Noah/Gibson
The assumption is certainly that Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will be able to play, but there's no real useful status on whether the pair will be back or how healthy they'll be when they are. Noah at least shot around prior to the Raptors game inspiring some hope, and given that plantar fasciitis is a pain tolerance issue, the odds are high that he fights through it in the playoffs.
Of course fighting through it and being on the court will help relative to playing Vladamir Radmanovic, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're getting the Joakim Noah that gives you a shot at upending the Pacers or Nets.
Some serious bullshit against the Heat
Anyone else annoyed at how the media referred to the last Bulls/Heat game as one of the most physical games they've seen. It's like LeBron bitched and then everyone bought into it. LeBron took one legitimate hard foul. The Hinrich play was LeBron James using his own size and strength to run over a guy 70 lbs lighter than him in a play which was closer to a reckless offensive foul than a flagrant defensive one.
Outside of that, the game wasn't anything all that special in defensive intensity, yet we watched the Heat get paraded to the foul line repeatedly in this game as the refs repeatedly called touch fouls on Chicago all night long. The Bulls weren't going to win this game anyway and only amazing three point shooting kept them close for awhile, so it doesn't ultimately matter much.
That said, it's irksome that the refs clearly went into the game with an agenda to benefit the Heat, that agenda was clearly set because of LeBron's comments, and I never once thought this game was played on a level playing field. It's one of the most annoying things about LeBron. He's effectively a crybaby, faking, wuss as a player.
I've never seen a team fake more contact than the Heat going back to 2010 where Bosh faked getting hit in the face in the infamous sniper play and went down to the ground on a play where there was no contact at all, or LeBron James and Wade both faking they got hit and going down to the floor with LeBron famously winking after one such play as if he was in a cheesy B movie telling the crowd he got away with one.
All players exaggerate contact to get a call, but Miami is the only team I've seen that repeatedly invents contact that doesn't exist and then falls to the floor and writhes on the ground to sell the call. Maybe they should collectively go play soccer.
At any rate, for a guy who's clearly the best player in the NBA, it's a bit sad that he also has to try to cheat the game to win as well, since he clearly doesn't need to.
Momentum is next day's starting lineup
I'm not a huge believer in momentum ending the regular season translating to anything in the playoffs.
The Bulls momentum will be based on whether or not Taj/Noah return (and I suppose you could throw in Rose, but it's not going to happen). If they do, then the Bulls will have some in the playoffs. If not, then they're going to get annihilated by the Pacers front court in the playoffs.