The Bulls aren't going to finish 2nd or third in the conference this season. Barring an epic collapse, they also won't finish seventh or eighth as they have two games and the tie breaker on a Boston team that's struggling to win games not to mention a soft schedule remaining and Milwaukee's all but eliminated from catching them. They're squarely in the 4-6 slot in the bracket which gives them four potential playoff matchups.
The Bulls presently reside in sixth, and if you are a believer in Rose coming back at any point this season [and boy is time running out on that one], then sixth is a nice spot for the Bulls to stay. In the sixth spot the Bulls would face either New York [3rd by a half game presently] or Indiana in the first round.
Now Chicago's beaten up on the Knicks pretty well thus far this season, so a case could be made that they're the Bulls ideal first round opponent either way. Of course, I'll rub some salt in all of our wounds and note the Bulls were also undefeated against the Heat in 2011 and it didn't mean much in the playoffs. That said, the Bulls match up pretty well with the Knicks.
Chicago defends Carmelo and the cast well and limits the Knicks three point shooting attempts while doing a nice job of taking advantage of a pedestrian Knick defense. Despite the regular season results, which included Melo missing a game, I'd make the Roseless Bulls an underdog against the Knicks. That said, Chicago wouldn't be a massive underdog. Maybe a 35/65 type deal where the Bulls have around a 1/3 chance of pulling off the upset.
The nice thing about sixth is that Chicago then gets to play the Pacers in round two rather than the Heat.
The Pacers are two and one against the Bulls this season, but the Bulls have played them tight. As much as people love to drool over Paul George and his breakout season, discussing how he's taking over for Danny Granger, it's worth noting that his numbers aren't actually as good as Granger at his best. Granger, if you hadn't heard is also out for the season.
A year ago George may have been the most underrated player in the NBA, but I think he's quickly become one of the most overrated as every Indiana game I watch he's talked about like a superstar. He's a very good player, but he's no where near first option caliber, which leaves the Pacers as a similar team to Chicago without Derrick Rose. A bunch of good players, good defenders, good coaching, and no superstar.
The Pacers have more talent than the Roseless Bulls by a decent margin, but the Bulls would still easily have a shot at upending them. The Roseless Bulls still probably have a 25/75 shot at beating the Pacers in a playoff series.
Now of course this analysis could easily get flipped if New York passes Indiana, but the short story is even without Rose, the Bulls have a shot to make the ECF coming out of the sixth spot, and if Rose comes back and plays reasonably well then you're flipping the series odds in both of these series to favor Chicago.
If not the sixth...
Obviously if Chicago doesn't stay in sixth then you'd rather climb up to fourth. The only difference between four and five is who has home court in the first round, so obviously you'd like to get that done. In a fourth/fifth scenario the Bulls are overwhelmingly likely to play the Nets or Hawks. Presently the Bulls are a game in a half behind Brooklyn (with one head to head remaining) and a half game behind the Hawks.
I'd say a Roseless Bulls team is likely a 50/50 toss up against the Nets and a 60/40 favorite against Atlanta. The Nets are old, lack depth, but have more in the way of offensive go to players. The Bulls can bring more defensively to the table though and match up well against Atlanta's best players, particularly if Jimmy Butler remains in the starting lineup.
The Hawks are perhaps the Bulls least likely first round opponent, but also the most favored. You simply don't want to go to war with Josh Smith as one of your primary offensive pieces. Atlanta can be explosive and deadly, but wildly inconsistent. It's easy to see them winning a series, but it's probably even more easy seeing them collapse.
The Bulls have a much better shot at advancing one round out of the 4/5 slot, but with a second round matchup against the Heat looming the playoff bus ends there.
I'm rooting for the sixth spot which means when the Bulls fall to the Wizards tonight [who are actually quite good with John Wall back despite their horrific record], I won't be too disappointed.
Any worthwhile scenario relies on a healthy Joakim
While I've discussed above what the Bulls could do without a healthy Derrick Rose, these scenarios do envision the Bulls playing with a healthy Joakim Noah. If Noah can't go in the playoffs all bets are off on the Bulls doing pretty much anything. Since Chicago has fared reasonably well without Noah, his absence hasn't been as big of a story.
However, he's been sitting for awhile now with the plantar fasciitis, his second stint of rest this season. Joakim has also typically taken a few games to get his energy back when sitting out, so the Bulls ideally need him back with 2-3 games left to play in the season in order for him to hit the playoffs at full speed.
Should Derrick Rose end the farce?
It feels more and more like there's no way Rose is coming back this year. Let's ignore, for a moment the reasons behind that. There's a growing sentiment I pick up from fans that they'd like Derrick to simply announce "sorry guys, I'm not coming back this season" rather than to keep beating around the bush and leaving it in God's hands.
My general thought is this, there's no reason for Rose to make such an announcement if he's willing to come back at any point. I'd rather twist in the wind for an extra month, and watch Rose come back in the final game of the season than to have him announce he's out and then stick with it. In short, fan discomfort for a period of time isn't a good enough reason for Rose to announce anything and end even a small chance of his return.
That said, at this point, you'd put your money on Rose not coming back. It's disappointing, but it's hard to imagine him playing at near full strength even if he were to come back right now. If so, Derrick will have nearly an 18 month recovery time before suiting up in his first game for the Bulls, and expectations will raise considerably for what he should be able to do right out of the gates.