The Eastern Conference looks like the bloodbath we all expected coming into the season.
Teams will begin to separate themselves from the pack eventually, sure. But the first 20 games really illustrate how tightly-contested this conference already is/going to be. If you haven’t checked in lately, take a peek…
- Celtics (17-4)
- Bucks (14-5)
- Cavaliers (13-8)
- Pacers (12-8)
- 76ers (12-9)
- Raptors (11-9)
- Wizards (11-10)
- Hawks (11-10)
- Nets (11-11)
- Heat (10-11)
- Bulls (9-11)
- Knicks (9-11)
- Hornets (6-15)
- Magic (5-16)
- Pistons (5-17)
The Bucks and Celtics are on an island of their own, and there’s no reason to expect that to change anytime soon. Likewise, absent some kind of shocking turnaround, the Hornets, Magic, and Pistons figure to occupy the bottom three spots (in whatever order) over the months to come.
As for the 10 teams in between … well, they make up an absurdly competitive middle-of-the-pack. Only 3.5 games currently separate the 3rd and 11th seeds in the East, while only one game separates the four teams that sit 7th-10th.
More definitive tiers are likely to arise soon enough, but it’s hard not see us barreling towards one big group duking it out in the middle for most of the season. It’s what we saw last year when only 3.0 games separated a top-6 seed and the final Play-In Tournament spot.
The Bulls were fortunate enough to take down both the Raptors and Cavaliers when it mattered most to secure a top-6 seed. And who is to say they can’t take advantage of this close seeding again this year?
All things considered, an unusually close Eastern Conference actually feels like moderately GOOD news for the Bulls. One short win streak could push them back into a more enviable position, which should be all the motivation this roster needs to flip the early-season script.
But fate (luck? regular old schedule sequencing?) is also here to lend a helping hand: According to Positive Residual, the Bulls have just the 11th-toughest remaining schedule in the conference (they’ve had the fourth toughest schedule in the entire NBA to date).
Theoretically, Indiana, Milwaukee, Philly, New York, Washington, Miami, Brooklyn, and Boston all have a tougher schedule from this point forward. Some of those teams are bound to weather the storm better than others, but it’s at least something to hold onto as the Bulls look to right the ship.
Maybe it’s silly to start scoreboard-watching this early on, but the Bulls have left us with no choice. Not to mention, for a conference that expects to be as close as this one, every single win counts.