Season winds down, playoff picture heats up


Season winds down, playoff picture heats up

Monday, April 4, 2011
Posted: 10:25 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam

At 2 12 games ahead of Miami (54-23) and three games ahead of Boston (53-23), it's not a foregone conclusion that the Bulls will get the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but it's more of a reality every day. On top of the East race, securing home-court advantage throughout the entire postseason is also in play.

It appears that the Bulls' magic number is three games out of their remaining six regular-season contests, as they hold a tiebreaker over the Heat, due to sweeping the season series. Of course, to make things easy, one of those three games needs to be Thursday's home tilt against the reeling Celtics--after trading center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, replacement Nenad Kristic suffered a bone bruise in his knee and the veteran O'Neals, Jermaine and Shaquille, have struggled with nagging injuries; the latter made his return to Boston's lineup Sunday after missing significant action, but had to leave with an ominous calf injury--which would even the season series at two games apiece.

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Although San Antonio snapped its six-game losing streak with an impressive win over the Steve Nash-less Suns on national television Sunday, they aren't out of the woods yet, in regards to clinching the West or the league's best overall record. At 58-19, the Spurs still have some work to do to hold off the Lakers (55-21) for that conference's top mark, as well as the Bulls--who are only one game behind them for best home record in the NBA--for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

While the Bulls profess to not care about possible first-round opponents, the battle for the East's eighth and final playoff seed is becoming clearer.

Indiana, at two games ahead of Charlotte and three up on Milwaukee, is currently in position to take the spot. Three of the Pacers' four remaining games are at home, where they will host Washington, Atlanta and New York at Conseco Fieldhouse before visiting Orlando in their regular-season finale.

Charlotte faces Cleveland, Orlando, Miami, Detroit, New Jersey and Atlanta in its final six contests, while Milwaukee takes on Orlando, Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and Oklahoma City down the stretch.

With the regular season coming to a close and the possibility of an extended playoff run on everyone's mind, it's sometimes hard to reflect on what the Bulls have already accomplished. But consider these numbers: a 17-4 record since the All-Star break, 33-5 at the United Center for the entire season, no losing streaks longer than two games all season, just 10 losses in the 2011 calendar year. In addition, the Bulls have only been truly blown out once, a 107-78 defeat at the hands of Orlando on Dec. 1, in Carlos Boozer's Bulls debut.

Besides that game, there have only been a handful of "bad losses"--Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would probably beg to differ--this season.
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The one-point December loss to the Clippers in Vinny Del Negro's return to Chicago was certainly a disappointment, as were the consecutive defeats at New Jersey and Philadelphia that raised the panic meter back in January. Likewise for the home-and-away setbacks at the hands of Charlotte, back-to-back losses to Golden State and Portland on the February West Coast road trip, falling at Toronto right after the All-Star break and last month's lackluster loss at Atlanta, in which they squandered a 19-point advantage.

However, with the exception of the Warriors and Trail Blazers--whom they beat the first time they played each squad, at the United Center--the Bulls have taken revenge on each and every opponent that's beaten them this season. That is, except for one foe--the New York Knicks, who handed them semi-decisive losses, both in Chicago and on Christmas Day, at Madison Square Garden. That doesn't bode well for the tumultuous, new-look Knicks, who host the Bulls in Chicago's final road game on April 12.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.
Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.” 
The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”
Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne. 
He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.
“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”
After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.
The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.
“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”   

Bulls will open against Sixers without Kris Dunn

Bulls will open against Sixers without Kris Dunn

The Bulls faced a steep test opening their 2018-19 campaign against the Philadelphia 76ers.

That task won't become any easier with Kris Dunn missing the game for personal reasons, head coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters at shootaround on Thursday.

Dunn's exlusion opens up an opportunity for Cameron Payne, who will enter the starting lineup. Payne started 14 games for the Bulls last season, averaging 9.4 points and 5.6 assists in 26.5 minutes.

It also moves up Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis, both of whom will be active, in the rotation. Expect both to see at least some playing time, especially with Denzel Valentine also out while recovering from a sprained ankle suffered in training camp.

It could mean an even bigger evening for Sixers point guard Ben Simmons. The reigning Rookie of the Year posted 19 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists in Philly's season-opening loss to the Celtics on Tuesday.