The Chicago Bulls are all but locked into the No. 6 seed.
A Toronto victory over the Philadelphia 76ers put them two full games ahead of Chicago last night, meaning Billy Donovan and Co. would have to beat both the Hornets and Timberwolves as Toronto lost to both the Knicks and Rockets to jump ahead in the standings.
As for whom the Bulls will face in the 3-v-6 matchup, that remains unclear. Only one game continues to separate seeds 2-4, but a Bucks win over the Celtics last night did push Milwaukee a half-game ahead of Boston and into the No. 2 spot. With that being the case, if the playoff started today, the Bulls would face the Celtics next week.
As I’ve written before, I think that remains the best possible first-round series for this Bulls group. Not only do I think the Bulls have a dynamic duo that can go toe-to-toe in crunch time with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but the absence of defensive anchor Robert Williams III leaves the team a bit more vulnerable up front. Is that to say I expect the Bulls to win that series? Not at this point, but I do think there is a chance to be competitive (even as frustrating as Wednesday night’s loss was).
To be clear, though, there is still a chance that Philly can pass Boston for the No. 3 seed. While the Celtics hold the tiebreaker advantage, they would need to beat the Grizzlies on Sunday to ensure that two-straight victories over the Pacers and Pistons for the 76ers are not enough to move ahead. The Bucks could also fall back into frame if they lose to either the Pistons or Cavs later this week.
I’m crossing my fingers neither happens because Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo have devoured more buckets than Pacman does those little ball things (what are they, and why does he need to eat them?) against the Bulls.
• To rest or not to rest? For the time being, it appears the Chicago Bulls have no plans to give anyone a night off for their final game at the United Center. Zach LaVine is listed as probable on the latest injury report, while Alex Caruso has been upgraded to questionable with his back injury. Perhaps this is the game where Donovan believes his starters can regain their rhythm on the offensive end, as all this Bulls team has done this season is score at will against the Hornets’ 24th-ranked defense. Chicago scored a combined 254 points in the last two games against Charlotte and shot well over 50 percent from the field in each contest.
• Believe it or not, the Bulls have also found a way to dominate behind the arc in each of their past two meetings with the Hornets. They sank 16 of 33 attempts from downtown in their February contest after dropping 14 of 30 back in November. Seeing the team build their confidence back up against this relatively poor perimeter defense would be nice, but I’m not sure how much I trust that it will happen. Even though the Hornets allow the second-most 3-point makes per game (14.1), the Bulls sank just 9 against the Bucks earlier this week, who allow the most. Chicago has also failed to record double-digit 3-point makes in six of their last seven games. Major yuck.
• As bad as the Hornets have been on the defensive end this season, they have been able to keep their wheels in motion on offense. Whereas the Bulls have run out the 4th-worst offense in the NBA since the All-Star break, the Hornets have played with the 4th-best. LaMelo Ball’s crew has been one of the most efficient shooting teams in the league in recent weeks, and they have scored the 2nd-most points in the paint per game since mid-February. So while we’ve seen this Bulls offense give the Hornets fits earlier this year, I fear the Hornets could be hungry for some payback tonight.
• ICYMI: DeMar DeRozan summed up what Lonzo Ball’s absence means for this squad earlier in the week:
“He brings a different type of swagger to us when he plays. I’m pretty sure you can pinpoint that when he’s out there, just things that he do: his passing to his IQ out there on the court, his capability to knock down shots, screen and roll, lob. Just the whole dynamic of the game changes when he’s not out there. So for us not to have him has definitely been a learning process. It’s definitely been tough.”
• I think we’ve learned very quickly how much Ball meant on both sides of the ball. Not only did his injury take away arguably the starting lineup’s best defender, but it took away an offensive connector that made it easy to get all three of the Bulls’ All-Star scorers involved. The Chicago Bulls are the best version of themselves when he is on the floor, and it’s pretty darn devastating we will not get to see that version of this team again in 2021-22.
• The Athletic’s Shams Charania joined David Kaplan on the latest episode of Unfiltered, and the NBA Insider said folks around the league view this Bulls season positively: “They were No. 1 in the East for the vast majority of the first half of the year. And you talk to people around the league, that is a great sign for the league, for Chicago, for the Bulls organization. So, yeah, it was a great sign for the NBA that the Bulls were No. 1.” If you want some more positive vibes, I touched on this sentiment earlier in the week.
• Hey, look, a move!
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) April 8, 2022
• Cubs are set for Round 2 against Milwaukee:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) April 8, 2022