When the Bulls went on their hottest stretch of the season, one that began Feb. 13 in a win over the Grizzlies and ended with that ridiculous quadruple-overtime victory in Atlanta, it assumed that their chances at top Lottery odds had vanished.
At that time, March 1, the Bulls were 18-45. Here’s how the bottom of the NBA standings looked:
Phoenix Suns: 12-51
New York Knicks: 13-49 (1.5 GB)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 15-47 (3.5 GB)
Chicago Bulls: 18-45 (6 GB)
Atlanta Hawks: 21-42 (9 GB)
There was actually more concern that the Bulls may stay hot and catch the Atlanta Hawks, thus pushing the Bulls farther down the Lottery standings. But since March 2, two things have happened that have once again potentially changed the Bulls’ fortunes: The Bulls have stopped winning and the Cavaliers have continued playing really well.
First, the Bulls have lost five of their last six games. Perhaps that marathon in Atlanta really took the life out of them, but then again the Hawks are 3-3 since that game so it clearly hasn’t affected them much. The Bulls offense has regressed some – playing twice without Zach LaVine – ranking 19th in the NBA in this recent two-week stretch. The defense has been its usual self, which is to say they rank 28th in efficiency since the four-overtime game.
The Cavs, meanwhile, look rejuvenated. A combination of Kevin Love returning from injury and rookie Collin Sexton turning a corner in Year 1 has given Cleveland new life. They’re also getting nice contributions from Cedi Osman and Jordan Clarkson. The result has been an improved roster and more competitive play. While the Bulls were getting hot the Cavaliers were, too. In fact, since Feb. 11 they’ve actually played .500 basketball (6-6), and their six wins in that stretch were as many as they had from Dec. 8 to Feb. 9.
So here’s how the Lottery standings look now:
New York Knicks: 13-55
Phoenix Suns: 16-53 (2.5 GB)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 17-51 (4 GB)
Chicago Bulls: 19-50 (5.5 GB)
Atlanta Hawks: 24-45 (11.5 GB)
It’s clear the Bulls will finish at worst with the fourth best Lottery odds (12.5 percent chance at the top pick). And for those holding out hope that the Bulls might join the Knicks and Suns at 14 percent, well, there’s actually a chance.
Per our friends at Tankathon, the Cavaliers have the sixth most difficult schedule remaining in the NBA. That includes two games against Milwaukee, one against Boston, and one against Golden State as part of a brutal five-game West road trip. They also play two games against the Spurs, who will be fighting for playoff positioning until the final week of the season.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the Cavs have been competitive against good teams. In the past two weeks they’ve gone down to the wire in Brooklyn and Philadelphia and they spanked the Raptors by 25 at home. That’s not to say they’ll continue this stretch, but it gives hope that they can string together a few wins against tough teams and then beat up on their easier foes that include Dallas, Phoenix and a Charlotte team at the end of the season that could be resting their key players in Game 82.
The Bulls don’t have it as difficult, which could mean more wins. Per Tankathon, they have the 16th most difficult schedule remaining. Their toughest games are against Toronto (twice), Philadelphia (twice), Portland and Utah. Perhaps the biggest threat to the 14-percent chances are the two games remaining the Bulls have against the tanking Knicks. Their game in Phoenix comes at the end of a three-game trip, and the Suns have played well of late.
For what it’s worth, Basketball Reference projects the Bulls to finish 4-9 for a 23-59 record, and the Cavaliers to finish 3-11 for a 20-62 record. That seems about right, given that the Cavaliers could “rest” players down the stretch while Jim Boylen and the Bulls seem to want to go full-speed ahead to finish the regular season strong.
Our best guess is the Bulls finish behind Cleveland in the Lottery standings, but the combination of the Bulls’ lackluster play and Cleveland performing well of late has certainly made it a conversation.