Welcome to the week that could make or break the Bulls’ playoff seeding! *nervous laughter*
Meet the Opponents:
• 3/21 vs Raptors (40-31): We took Thaddeus Young and we’ll now take the No. 5 seed.
• 3/22 @ Bucks (44-27): Just … good luck.
• 3/24 @ Pelicans (30-41): If you lose to the Kings, you can lose to us. No doubt.
• 3/26 @ Cavaliers (41-30): LAURI CAREER-HIGH INCOMING!
Bulls Projected Lineup
1. Ayo Dosunmu
2. Zach LaVine
3. DeMar DeRozan
4. Javonte Green
5. Nikola Vučević
Opponent Projected Lineup
1. Fred VanVleet
2. Scottie Barnes
3. Pascal Siakam
4. Precious Achiuwa
5. Khem Birch
1. Jrue Holiday
2. Grayson Allen
3. Khris Middleton
4. Giannis Antetokunmpo
5. Brook Lopez
1. CJ McCollum
2. Devonte’ Graham
3. Herb Jones
4. Jaxson Hayes
5. Jonas Valanciunas
1. Darius Garland
2. Isaac Okoro
3. Lamar Stevens
4. Lauri Markkanen
5. Evan Mobley
Unavailable/Injured (at the start of the week):
Bulls: Patrick Williams AVAILABLE (wrist), Lonzo Ball OUT (knee)
What Should We Expect in a Patrick Williams Return? (and Other Bulls Bullets)https://t.co/G1P9bTqfGo
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 20, 2022
Raptors: Gary Trent Jr. OUT (toe), OG Anunoby OUT (finger), Malachi Flynn OUT (hamstring)
Bucks: DeAndre’ Bembry OUT (knee)
Pelicans: Brandon Ingram OUT (hamstring), Zion Williamson OUT (foot), Larry Nance Jr. OUT (knee), Kira Lewis Jr. OUT (knee), Devonte’ Graham QUESTIONABLE (hip)
Cavaliers: Collin Sexton OUT (knee), Jarrett Allen OUT (finger), Rajon Rondo OUT (ankle), Dean Wade OUT (knee)
Injury updates via ESPN.
• Bulls: 54.3 EFG% (6th), 13.0 TOV% (7th), 24.8 OREB% (29th), .243 FTA RATE (17th)
• Raptors: 50.8 EFG% (27th), 12.9 TOV% (5th), 32.5 OREB% (2nd), .236 FTA RATE (24th)
• Bucks: 54.5 EFG% (5th), 13.3 TOV% (10th), 26.8 OREB% (17th), .256 FTA RATE (9th)
• Pelicans: 51.6 EFG% (25th), 14.5 TOV% (23rd), 30.1 OREB% (4th), .242 FTA RATE (18th)
• Cavaliers: 54.6 EFG% (5th), 13.0 TOV% (6th), 24.7 OREB% (29th), .258 FTA RATE (7th)
What to Watch For …
Bulls: With matchups against three teams in the thick of an East seeding race, Chicago can take tremendous strides toward locking in a first-round playoff series this week. Specifically, the matchups against the Raptors and Cavaliers could be the difference between a top-6 spot and a catastrophic tumble into the Play-In Tournament. Cleveland is only a half-game behind, while the Raptors sit 1.5 games out of the No. 5 seed, meaning a loss to either could spell significant trouble. The Bulls are also looking to take the tiebreaker advantage over both teams. Get the dub, and Chicago would sit in front of both if the season finished with a tie in the record books. Time to step up and take care of business!
Raptors: Toronto may not be the most consistent team, but they will always outwork you. The length and versatility of players like Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby put real pressure on shot-creators. Meanwhile, the active hands of a guy like Gary Trent Jr. have made the perimeter a scary place to be. The team only shoots with the 27th-best effective field goal percentage, but they can create easy opportunities in transition via defensive stops and also feast on second-chance points. Not only did the team outscore the Bulls 22-10 in points off turnovers back in February, but they also dominated the offensive glass by the same margin. If the Bulls want to get back in the win column and earn a much-needed win against this rising squad, they’ll have to play a more disciplined game and box-out like their life depends on it.
Bucks: The Bucks are the Bucks. The reigning champions have started to play like it more and more as the playoffs near, and Giannis Antetokunmpo has only strengthened his MVP case in recent weeks. The Bulls have brought the level of intensity needed to play this team in each of their past two contests, but they have still failed to come out on top. Assuming the Bulls Big 3 can show up, this is going to come down to the supporting cast. The Bulls are going to need guys like Alex Caruso, Coby White, and Tristan Thompson to add a little juice on both ends of the floor. Other than a surprising Matt Thomas performance in Game 1, Chicago has yet to see a player not named Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, or DeMar DeRozan crack double-figures against the Bucks this season.
Pelicans: This is not the same Pelicans team the Bulls played on October 22nd. After a rather atrocious start to the season, the Pelicans have been just two games under a .500 team since the start of January. Not only did players like Herb Jones, Jaxson Haynes, and Jonas Valaciunas begin to excel in their roles, but the team then added the ultimate professional in C.J. McCollum at the trade deadline. Since he’s arrived in New Orleans, McCollum has averaged 26.1 points with 6.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. He’s shot 50.5 percent from downtown and 39.1 percent from the field over his 15 contests. The new role has given us some of McCollum’s best basketball, and his IQ has only made this New Orleans team better. Of course, that isn’t to say we shouldn’t expect the Bulls to beat this team, but it will not be as easy as it once was. Just ask the Nuggets or Grizzlies or Mavericks.
Cavaliers: The last time we saw the Chicago Bulls play like their early-season self was on March 12th in Cleveland. There were real hints of that same energy and flow that hoisted them to the top of the Eastern Conference for the first time in a long time. Alex Caruso’s return had things clicking on the defensive end, while the two-man game of DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic made somewhat easy work of a Cavs defense missing big man Jarrett Allen. The hope is they can just copy and paste the same kind of performance, but that will be a lot easier said than done against a hungry Darius Garland.
Question of the Week:
Last week’s question: How much better does this team look with Alex Caruso?
When Caruso returned to the lineup against the Cavaliers in March, it was the Bulls’ first time holding an opponent under 100 points since Grayson Allen was a huge jerkface on January 21st. So things looked a lot better … until the Bulls went out west.
Look, there is no question the Bulls are a better team with Caruso in the rotation. There is also no question Caruso still needs to get caught back up to speed. But what we’ve seen over the course of three-straight losses is that Caruso can’t plug every hole on the defensive end. The fact of the matter is that his teammates are going to have to step up as help defenders and rotators to make the havoc Caruso wreaks as an on-ball defender worth it.
This week’s question: How big of a role does Patrick Williams play right off the bat? And does he look ready to contribute?