Despite finishing as the East’s sixth-best squad last season, the NBA wants more proof that the Chicago Bulls are back in the competitive mix.
The league released the 2022-23 regular season schedule on Wednesday afternoon, and the Bulls weren’t given any favors. According to Positive Residual, Billy Donovan’s crew is tied for having the toughest strength of schedule of any playoff team from last season.
Here’s a look at the top-13 squads:
Trail Blazers (0.507)
Yup. No playoff team last season on either end of the spectrum will head into the year with a tougher task than the Bulls and Nets. Now, should we already file this under “future excuses?” Absolutely not, but there is no question it’s frustrating to see them dealt this hand.
Not only does it feel as if the Bulls weren’t rewarded for a step in the right direction last season, but the teams that will likely be their stiffest competition for a top-6 spot have a significantly better path. Positive Residual lists the Raptors – who finished two games better than the Bulls – as having just the 20th hardest SOS. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Hawks are both listed as having one of the top-5 easiest schedules. Like … really?
All of this feels like an even greater gut punch when we factor in other schedule challenges. Chicago is one of only five teams to have an NBA-leading 15 back-to-back sets this season. On top of that, they will play 12 games with a rest disadvantage. Only the Warriors and Clippers will play more (both have 13).
Look, I’m not advising anyone to freak out about this, but I think it’s at least worth a note when we consider how tightly-contested the East is expected to be. Last year showed us that only a couple of games are likely to separate the Play-In Tournament and a first-round playoff series, so any advantage a team can get feels fairly important.
Oh well. Time to use this as motivation and move on.