There’s Still Time for the Bulls to Make One Final Jump in the East Standings
The Chicago Bulls have gone 7-3 over their last 10 games. They have also held the NBA’s 6th-best net rating since the All-Star break.
The surprising late-season turnaround has largely been thanks to an improved defensive effort. Not only has Patrick Beverley provided the Bulls with shades of the point-of-attack pressure they had with Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball last season, but the entire team has executed at an entirely new level. Physicality has ramped up. Rotations have been cleaner. Close outs have been strong.
Meanwhile, Zach LaVine has played like nothing short of a max player in March. He’s scored the fourth-most points in the league so far this month, and a big reason for that has been his fantastic efficiency on drives to the rim. The Bulls have also seen their overall effective field goal percentage move into the league’s top-5.
Yet, despite all that basketball goodness, the Bulls still sit 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The good news is that it should be very difficult for the Bulls to fall back out of the Play-In Tournament picture. What this winning stretch has done is build them a 3.0-game cushion over the Washington Wizards and a 3.5-game cushion over the Indiana Pacers. With just seven games left to go in the regular season, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls switching spots with either of those teams, particularly when we consider that Tankathon currently gives the Pacers and Wizards the 8th and 9th-hardest remaining strength of schedules, respectively.
But what about switching spots with one of the teams above them? If the Bulls finish out their year in a similarly strong fashion, there could be a very real path for them to continue their Eastern Conference ascent. To be clear, we’re not talking about making it out of the Play-In Tournament, but we are talking about snatching a home game or even ending up in the 7v8 game.
The Hawks and Raptors currently sit 8th and 9th in the East, respectively. Both are only 1.0 game ahead of the Bulls (as of publishing) and hold just a .500 record over their last 10 games.
Fortunately for Toronto, they have claimed the tiebreaker advantage over Chicago, which means that they would finish the higher seed if the two squads ended up with the same regular season record. As for the Hawks, the Bulls currently claim the tiebreaker advantage, but the two do face off one more time over these next two weeks. I think it’s fair to say that could be a very big game.
Having said that, there is a world where the Bulls can surpass both and not even worry about those tiebreakers coming into play. Tankathon gives them the 10th-easiest remaining SOS, whereas Toronto and Atlanta have the 3rd and 4th toughest, respectively. This includes matchups with the Heat, 76ers, and two with the Celtics still on the calendar for the Raptors. The Hawks have the Cavs, 76ers, Celtics, and a desperate Mavs team waiting in the wings.
Now, we do have to consider the possibility that some of these playoff-bound teams choose to take it easy over this final stretch. This could make a handful of games far easier for both the Hawks and Raptors as they try to lock in their spots. Still, it will undoubtedly be something to keep an eye on as this season winds down.
Let’s not forget the No. 9 seed gets to host the 9v10 Play-In game, while the No. 8 seed only needs to win one game to clinch the No. 7 seed. The Bulls’ goal should be to *at least* move one spot up, and they have seven more games to try to do just that.