An Opportunity to Clinch, Playing Disciplined Ball, Vucevic's Stroke Returns, and Other Bulls Bullets

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An Opportunity to Clinch, Playing Disciplined Ball, Vucevic’s Stroke Returns, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls could do something they haven’t done in quite some time tonight.

If Billy Donovan and Co. can take care of business against the Miami Heat AND the Cleveland Cavaliers stumble against the New York Knicks, Chicago will clinch their first playoff series since the mighty Three-Alphas did so back in 2016-17 (#WouldHaveWonWithRondo).

Expecting a team to lose to the New York Knicks is the opposite of a safe assumption, especially the night after they were officially eliminated from postseason contention, but we also watched the Bulls drop a game to Thibs’ squad last week. New York has still won four of their last five games, while the Cavaliers have dropped five of six. New York will also still have young players vying to prove their worth, and out-of-playoff teams always find extra motivation in hurting their conference opponent’s playoff chances at this time of year. So … we’ll see!

•   Of course, the more important thing is Chicago beating Miami, which is something they have failed to do three times this season. Every single time these two have met, the Heat’s mixture of veteran savvy and relentless physicality has given the Bulls fits. Even back on December 11th when both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were out of the lineup, Miami found a way to beat this Bulls team to a pulp with Heat Culture for a 118-92 win. Not only will beating them mean matching their energy, but it means playing disciplined basketball.

•   The Heat’s top-5 defense forces opponents into the 3rd-most turnovers per game, and they score the 7th-most points per game off those turnovers. On the other end, while they may not dominate the free-throw line as a team, they do have old friend Jimmy Butler, who happens to average the 4th-most free throw attempts per game. Fouling has been a major issue for the Bulls at times this season, and Butler has gotten to the line for at least 7 attempts in the two games he’s appeared in against the Bulls this season. Untimely turnover and fouling have been two things that have sunk Chicago since the All-Star break. The team has recently trended back in the right direction, winning both battles in the previous two contests, but neither opponent was on the Heat’s level.

•   Now, as good as Miami is at taking advantage of their opponent’s mistakes, they happen to make plenty of their own. Erik Spoelstra’s team surprisingly averages the 4th-most TOVs per game. In fact, they have committed at least double-digit cough-ups in 12 consecutive games, including 17 against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. Now, I’m not sure how many of these are normally live-ball turnovers (which is what the Bulls’ electric transition defense wants to see), but they are still failed possessions. The Bulls have to make the most of those opportunities.

•   Miami has Caleb Martin, Max Strus, and Gabe Vincent on the injury report ahead of tonight’s battle. Strus and Vincent both played in the team’s last matchup with Boston, but Martin has missed the previous two games. The individual absence of any one of those players shouldn’t make a significant enough difference, but all are quality role players who fill a need in this Heat rotation. The Bulls have specifically felt the impact of Vincent this season, who has scored at least 20 points in two of the three contests … despite averaging just 8.1 on the season. His streaky 3-ball has given Chicago real problems at times.

•   Speaking of the 3-ball, Nikola Vucevic has shot it really well as of late! The big man might be shooting his worst percentage from downtown since the 2018-19 season, but he seems to have found his groove in the month of March. Vucevic currently carries a 39.3 percent mark from behind the arc over the last 14 games. His roughly 4.0 attempts per night remain pretty consistent with what we’ve seen all season long, so it appears the Bulls’ All-Star center has simply regained his touch at arguably the best time of the year. Let’s hope things stay this way.

•   ESPN released an NBA Future Power Rankings where they assessed where each franchise could stand over the next three seasons. The Chicago Bulls found themselves in the middle of the pack at No. 14, which is one spot behind the Utah Jazz and one spot ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves. I’m sure that will ruffle some feathers, but I happen to be ok with that placement for now. While it predicts them to be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team – and we all know the goal is always to be much more than that – I think it also indicates they have a lot of room to grow. At the end of the day, you have to start somewhere, and I’d rather have people view Chicago as a playoff-caliber team than one outside the mix. After all, not only does this make it easier to attack players, but it also means the front office should remain aggressive to make them more than that.

•   I can’t get enough of DeMar DeRozan.

•   Ben Simmons is still hoping to return for the playoffs, which makes a potential matchup with the Nets that much scarier for the No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

•   I’m here for it.

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.