Things keep changing at the top, and right after Miami won the first seed in the East, they gave it right back to Indiana. Indiana seemed destined to give it right back with a home game against the Thunder, but managed to pull their first quality win together in forever and now has a magic number of one to clinch the one seed in the East with a single game left to play against the Magic.
The Bulls? They lost to a Knicks team that was eliminated from the playoffs the previous night when Atlanta defeated the Heat. In the end? Too many turnovers and poor shooting doomed them as much as anything else. Their defense didn't play well enough either, and it was just one of those games.
It's been so long since we saw the Bulls fall to a team they should have beaten that it feels strange. Up until there was about 30 seconds left I figured the Bulls would still find some miracle way to pull it out. The Bulls had won 16 straight against below .500 teams prior to this loss, and while those are all games they should win, it's tough to always win those games.
However, there was no monster comeback coming in this game, no surge like against the Detroit Pistons. I think we all felt it coming at points, the Bulls cut a large lead down to six multiple times, but couldn't get closer.
Joakim Noah fell one assist shy of another triple double in the loss. Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin both shot horribly from the field which contributed heavily to the Bulls lack of scoring. The Bulls really rely on getting efficiency from the PG position and struggle mightily when they don't.
The Knicks giveth and the Knicks taketh away.
Now? Well, the Bulls still might win the three seed, but it will rely on Toronto faltering and them not faltering. Still a distinct possibility down the stretch. The Bulls play the Magic and @Bobcats while the Raptors play the Bucks and @Knicks. The question is what do you want as a Bulls fan?
The three seed definitely gives a better path to round two, but the matchup against the Pacers actually feels fairly winnable for Chicago rather than just a complete longshot. I might give the Bulls 35-40% odds at winning that one right now given the Pacers have been so atrocious lately.
That said, the Heat haven't been much better. There's just an assumption that Dwyane Wade will become healthy, and Miami will flip this thing into playoff gear once the time comes. I hold that assumption along with much of the rest of the NBA, but there's certainly reason to doubt it. This is by far the worst Miami has played in the regular season since the big three came together.
There's the theory that maybe Chicago would be better off in the Miami bracket, because at least if they lose they soften them up for the Pacers, or perhaps you believe the Bulls just sharpen them up for the Pacers instead?
I suppose in the end, I think I'd prefer the four seed and the easier path through round two with a more difficult path through round one. I think the Bulls will take the Nets in round one if they end up as the four seed even if it's more of a struggle than Washington. Brooklyn has played better recently, but I like the way the Bulls match up against them for the most part. They're still an old and slow team, and when it comes down to execution, I like the Bulls more.
I wouldn't want to underestimate the additions of Pierce/Garnett who know how to win in the playoffs. I don't expect the Nets to fall apart this year and completely give up like last season. That said, I feel confident in the Bulls ability to defend those guys at this stage of their careers.
The Wizards seem more likely to choke to me, they don't have much playoff experience. That said, if they can stay loose, their extreme perimeter athleticism is more likely to give Chicago trouble. The Bulls biggest weakness is when teams can blow them up off the dribble, and I think Washington's odds of doing that vastly exceed the Nets.
If the Bulls can't defeat the Nets, and it's definitely not an automatic, then they weren't getting past the Pacers anyway. In the end, since Chicago's not in the top two seeds, their path to the finals (as ridiculous as it sounds that I'd discuss it) runs through both Indiana and Miami. When viewing the ultimate goal, however unlikely it is, it kind of doesn't matter where they start.
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