The Bulls went on the road to defeat the Atlanta Hawks sending them out of the playoffs [by percentage points]. Unfortunately, Dwight Howard was out for the Rockets, and the Raptors defeated Houston to win one of their two remaining tough games to remain tied for the third seed. Toronto holds the tiebreaker.
The drop has been severe for the Hawks, early on, Atlanta was sitting in third place in the East. They even maintained their position briefly after losing Al Horford, but in the end, the Atlanta couldn't maintain their position and has slid all the way out of the playoffs. Based on recent play, it sure feels like the Knicks will hang on to that eighth spot.
Indiana has officially fallen behind Miami for the race to become the #1 seed, and they'll likely need to beat the Heat in their final matchup to take it back. Their last meeting will be in Miami. That said, the way the Pacers have played recently, even if they beat the Heat in their series finale, they won't take the #1 seed.
The Pacers had the #1 seed in the bag, but they've gone 7-10 over their last 17 games. It's a tough break for a team that felt they would have beaten Miami last season with home court advantage. The Pacers simply don't look as good as people thought they were and are playing far below the standard of the other elite teams in the NBA.
If they defeat Miami in the playoffs, it will be purely due to the huge interior size advantage. Their team is really built to match up well against the Heat, but they'd get slaughtered in the finals if they made it that far.
As for the Heat, they haven't played all that great down the stretch either. Chris Bosh called out the whole team, and they've leaped to first in the conference more out of default than great play. The Pacers have simply been that bad.
As noted above the Bulls/Raptors are sitting tied, their remaining schedules are as follows.
The Bulls have three games left, all home, against teams we'd expect to roll over and die. Milwaukee, Detroit, and Orlando. The Raptors have four games left in that category @Milwaukee, Philadelphia, @Detroit, and Milwaukee.
The Bulls play two road games against teams that are pedestrian to pretty good in Washington/Minnesota, a road game against a Knicks team that is fighting for its playoff life, and a road game against the Bobcats that may or may not mean something to Charlotte in the finale.
The Raptors play one home game against a really good team in Indiana, but as noted above, it's been awhile since Indiana played like a really good team. They play the Knicks twice, but the Knicks fate may be decided by the finale rendering the final game meaningless.
I'd expect the Raptors to lose no more than two games over their final seven and finishing out 6-1 or even 7-0 is a possibility. That means the Bulls likely need to go at least 6-1 to take the #3 seed and earn themselves an easier match up in both rounds one and two.
The Brooklyn Nets look like they have a pretty good road to the four seed. They're two games up on Washington in the loss column and a game in the win column. Washington does hold the tiebreaker on them, but the Nets only have a road game against Miami and a home game against the Knicks (second to last game which might not mean anything) left on their schedule in term of opponents who don't stink.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats are way out in front of the eighth seed, and probably two games back in the loss column on the sixth seed. Odds are that Charlotte will stick where it is in seventh, especially given that they have a fairly tough schedule to close out the season. However, if they can pull into a tie with Washington, they do hold the tiebreaker.
I'm sure Charlotte would love to sneak into sixth in order to avoid Miami/Indiana despite neither team playing well down the stretch.
If I were calling the playoffs today.
New York vs Miami
Charlotte vs Indiana
Washington vs Chicago
Brooklyn vs Toronto
That said, a week ago I would have felt there's no way Indiana could drop out of the #1 spot, so things can still change fast.
Bulls doing more of the same
Nothing overly surprising last night for the Bulls. The Hawks held on for a little while. They built up a first quarter lead and kept the game close. They fought back here and there, but whenever they did D.J. Augustin answered the call. When it wasn't D.J. it was Kirk Hinrich, the two combined for 40 points on 15/28 shooting with 11 assists.
The two ball handler lineup is working well for Chicago, and I'm anxious to see what it looks like next year with a [hopefully] healthy Derrick Rose.
The Bulls continued on with a few disturbing trends. Their rebounding, again, wasn't all that good, and their defense struggled early but came together as the game went on. Part of that is surely the Boozer effect.
They look good offensively and are shooting the ball well. It's nice to see the team win some games due to offensive execution rather than defense/rebounding. Jimmy Butler knocked down three of eight from beyond the arc, but hit an important one to end the Hawks final shot to mount a comeback late in the fourth quarter.
Another 10/10/6 game for Noah who continues to lead the Bulls. I don't play fantasy basketball, but apparently Joakim Noah's a fantasy god this year, according to my buddy whom panicked when I told him that Noah's plantar fascitis kicked up as an April fools joke [which I shamelessly stole from realgm].
Chicago needs to keep it plowing through these final games if they want the three seed. They'll need to skip no steps and play to near perfection. Their remaining schedule definitely gives them a shot.
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