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.

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls season

USA Today

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls season

It’s no secret that the Bulls’ season hangs in the balance. At 17-30, the team is at once three games out of a playoff spot and slated ninth in the current lottery standings. 

To hear head coach Jim Boylen and co. tell it, a playoff berth remains the more desirable of those two timelines. But according to Basketball Reference, the Bulls have the third most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the East. And worse, they’ll have to face the (immediate) future without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.

The loss of Markkanen — the most recent of that group to go down — has tipping point potential. In the Bulls’ first game without him, they mustered just 81 points at home against a swooning Sacramento Kings squad, shooting 8-for-37 from 3-point range in the process. The team’s need for secondary scoring outside of Zach LaVine glared

But, as Boylen has maintained all season, the Bulls are not going to change the way they play. They just need to play better.

“We gotta play faster, we gotta move the ball. I thought we had a couple possessions where the ball stuck. The ball can’t stick. We gotta move it, we gotta drive it,” Boylen said of the loss to the Kings before the Bulls’ Saturday night matchup with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “I also think we missed some opportunities that we need to make.

“Our margin for error is not great. We have to make the plays we can make and make the shots we can make.”

For now, at least, the starting lineup won’t change (sorry #StartCoby crowd) — though Boylen said he’ll keep his rotation fluid. As for outside reinforcements being brought in?

“We have not talked about that. Doesn’t mean we won’t,” Boylen said when asked if the Bulls could actually pivot to ‘buying’ at the trade deadline, given their relative proximity to a playoff spot. “We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch of games, and a lot of games, so my focus has been on that.

“I love the guys we have,” he added. “And we’re gonna keep coaching and teaching the guys we have. I’ve got a good group, a coachable group.”

Absent from those adjectives was ‘interchangeable’ but that word has been ever-present in Boylen’s vocabulary through the ups and downs of this season. In his first full year at the helm, his primary goal remains clear.

“Because we’re establishing this system,” Boylen said when asked why, through thick and thin, the team’s playing style hasn’t changed, as it did last season after Boylen was hired. “Last year, we were tearing it down and then establishing it. Now we’re gonna keep establishing it.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 98-81 loss to the Kings.

1:00 - Reaction to the loss and LaVine getting double-teamed

2:50 - On Jim Boylen saying don’t expect system changes with Markkanen hurt

4:25 - Sabine’s list of things that have happened since the last time the Kings made the playoffs in 2006

5:35 - Viewer comment on LaVine and Coby

6:40 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine

8:00 - On the importance of 1st vs 3rd quarter

9:00 - Viewer comment on possible trades

11:00 - Viewer comment on seeing Bulls without Markkanen

14:30 - On Lauri Markkanen’s hip injury and missing 4-6 weeks

18:40 - Viewer comment asking if Bulls should shut down Markkanen

19:50 - Hey Matt Peck, did you see what DRose did tonight?

21:15 - Viewer comment on what to expect from Lauri when he returns

23:40 - Viewer asking the greatest moment the Outsiders have witnessed

24:55 - On NBA naming the All-Star starters

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: