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.

READ: Former Bulls Rodman, Winter get Hall call

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls trade up or down in the draft?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls trade up or down in the draft?

Mark Carman, Hub Arkush, Phil Rogers and Will Perdue join Kap on the SportsTalk Live Podcast.

The guys start by discussing Brandon Morrow's injury that he sustained while taking off his pants... what's the craziest cause for an injury the guys can remember?

Plus, should the Bulls move up or down in Thursday's NBA Draft? Does it make sense to take on a bad contract in a potential deal?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls


Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

Over the past several weeks, the Bulls have been heavily rumored to be selecting Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although the 6-foot-7 Hutchison had a stellar four-year career with the Broncos, and was regarded as a top-100 national prospect coming out of high school, his background is relatively unknown compared to many of his first-round counterparts. Not many recruiting gurus watched Hutchison in-depth in high school. The same could be said about draft analysts watching Hutchison's career unfold at Boise State.

Part of the reason Hutchison has flown under the radar for so long, despite being a first-round talent, is his unique basketball upbringing. Many elite high school players opt to transfer to big-time basketball schools while playing in high-exposure shoe-company leagues during the spring and summer. Instead of the normal path, Hutchison chose to stick with the people that he trusted.

Playing for a small, independent grassroots program in high school known as Team Eastbay, Hutchison started showing special gifts as a sophomore in before blossoming into a top-100 national prospect towards the end of high school. Hutchison's trainer and coach with Team Eastbay, Perry Webster, saw that Chandler had the ability to be a big-time player.

"I walked into the gym and saw this 15-year-old kind of gangly kid. And he just moved different than anybody else. I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Webster said of Hutchison.

As Hutchison developed more of a reputation in the Southern California basketball scene, becoming a starter at Mission Viejo High School his junior season, he started to draw more attention from local and national recruiting analysts — including former ESPN recruiting insider Joel Francisco, Scout.com's Josh Gershon and SoCal recruiting analyst Devin Ugland.

"You saw during his junior year that he was a legitimate Division I prospect. During the spring he started blossoming," Francisco said. "He had the ball skills and the prototypical length and things like that. And he was finishing plays. He had a good IQ for the game. It was a matter of strength and he had to fill out to become a more complete player."

By the end of summer going into his senior season, Hutchison had established himself as a potential Pac-12 recruit, as schools like Oregon and USC started to show heavy interest. But it was mid-major programs like Boise State, Saint Mary's and UC-Irvine who had long been involved in Hutchison's recruitment.

Knowing that Hutchison was a unique wing with a high IQ and passing skills, Webster, a former Division I player at Cal State Fullerton himself, advised that his star player take a close look at the programs that would put him in position to succeed right away.

"Every AAU program in Southern California was trying to get him for their team. Free ride this, free shoes. The kid stayed really loyal to me. I was very hard on him," Webster said. "I demanded a lot of him. I screamed at him, I yelled at him. And he looked me in the eye and took it. I realized, this kid is pretty special because he's not running away from what he is. He knows what his limitations are. That's not something he's afraid to address.

"Not everybody was sold on him. Joel [Francisco] was. Joel was one of the proponents of him. But being that he burst on the scene late, and that he didn't play for the big shoe companies, we kind of came to the decision that we wouldn't be so enamored by the Pac-12. He realized he had ability but he still had a long way to go." 

Hutchison eventually decided to sign his National Letter of Intent with Boise State before his senior season started as assistant coach Jeff Linder acted as his lead recruiter. Even though his collegiate future had been decided, Hutchison continued to evolve into a major prospect during senior year as he flourished at Mission Viejo.

Even with his strong senior season, skepticism remained about Hutchison since he hadn't played with and against many of the major names in Southern California. Ranked as the No. 83 overall prospect in ESPN's final Class of 2014 national recruiting rankings, Hutchison was viewed as the seventh best player in his own state. While Francisco pushed for Hutchison to be ranked in the top 50, he had to settle for him being a back-end top-100 talent.

"They're like, hey, he's going to Boise State, he's not on a major shoe company team. How good can he be? But if he can play, he can play. It doesn't matter if he's not on the adidas circuit, he's not in the EYBL," Francisco said.

Francisco wasn't the only major recruiting analyst to take notice of Hutchison's play. Rivals.com's Eric Bossi also labeled Hutchison as a potential breakout player at Boise State. Hutchison was even placed in the Rivals national recruiting rankings, ending up at No. 98 overall, after his senior season. Bossi was on vacation with his family during spring break and he happened to see Hutchison play during his senior season. But Hutchison's strong effort, along with some research, convinced Bossi that he was worthy of a top-100 ranking, even with only one serious viewing. 

"I decided to go watch some regional California high school playoff stuff. And it just so happened to be that Chandler's high school team was one of the teams I was seeing," Bossi said. "I knew he was on the team and committed to Boise State. But then when I watched him play I was like, 'Holy cow, what an incredible get for Boise State. Like, this dude's legit.' He had great size for a wing. He could handle the ball, he could really pass and I thought he could defend multiple positions at the next level when it was all said and done. I thought he was a versatile, well-skilled, well-rounded basketball player. So, based on that, I thought he was top-100. I wish I had seen him more."

Even as a former top-100 national prospect, it took some time for Hutchison to gain traction at Boise State as he didn't put up big numbers during his first two seasons. Although Hutchison played plenty of minutes and started a healthy amount of games, he often took a back seat to talented all-conference players like Anthony Drmic and James Webb III.

When those players eventually moved on from the Broncos, Hutchison was given his chance to shine, as his ascension into all-conference player and future first-round pick came with an intense work ethic that continually developed during workouts in college.

Hutchison also became a consistent three-point threat — something he had been lacking during his development — as he became a hot name in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his unorthodox basketball background.

"He's always been competitive. I think the big thing is reps. And it still will be as he continues to play in the league," Webster said. "He wasn't a bad shooter in high school, but I think the big adjustment for him getting to college, it's hard to put up good percentages in college. I think some of it is mental. But I think he's a good shooter and I think that he'll prove that." 

It's hard to predict if the Bulls will end up with Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday night — especially given all of the chaos that can occur on draft night. But if Hutchison does end up in Chicago, he won't be fazed by having to prove himself after already doing so at the high school and college level.