Deng injury not serious; Bulls' situation is though


Mar 10

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Luol Deng’s latest injury doesn’t seem serious, though the Bulls season could use some good news as well.

Deng underwent an MRI Wednesday morning for a calf injury. Deng was diagnosed with a strain and the initial diagnosis was he should miss a few gams. So, Deng could miss at least Thursday’s game in Orlando and probably Friday’s in Miami, although he is going on the trip. After that, it remains unclear as with just about all the injured players these days as Taj Gibson also has a flareup of his plantar fasciitis in going scoreless against Utah Tuesday

Thursday’s game will be a tough one with Deng, Gibson and Brad Miller all with injury concerns. In addition, Joakim Noah is still out with plantar fasciitis, but apparently getting a bit closer to playing.

The big game for the Bulls is Friday in Miami, because of the race for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Milwaukee has been, by far, playing the best and has moved into the fifth spot. Still, all five teams are close in this basketball version of musical chairs and it may well come down to tiebreakers for determine that final spot.

Here is how the Bulls have been against the other contenders for the last playoff spots:

Miami: 1-1 with two left, Friday in Miami and March 25 in Chicago.

Milwaukee: 1-2 with one left, April 6 in Chicago.

Charlotte: 1-1 with two left, April 3 in Chicago and April 14, the last day of the season, in Charlotte.

Toronto: 0-2 with one left, April 11 in Toronto.

Here is the standings starting at No. 5:

No. 5 Milwaukee: 34-29
No. 6 Toronto: 32-30
No. 7 Charlotte: 32-31
No. 8 Miami: 33-32
No. 9 Bulls: 31-32

The first tiebreaker if two teams are tied is head to head results. So, the Bulls have a chance in that against everyone but the Raptors. It’s also why Friday’s Miami game is crucial because the winner gets the edge in the tiebreaker.

If the teams are even for the season, which still could occur with Milwaukee, Miami and Charlotte, the next tiebreaker is division record if you are in the same division, which is the case with the Bulls and Bucks. It is conference record if you are in different divisions, which is the case with the Bulls and Bobcats and Heat.

If division records are the same for the Bulls and Bucks, then it goes to conference record.

The Bulls are 8-4 in the division to 8-5 for Milwaukee, a slight edge for the Bulls. But if that is tied, the Bucks are 25-15 in the conference compared to the Bulls 19-18.

The Bobcats are 19-19 in the conference with the Bulls 19-18. The Heat is also 19-18 in the conference.

So it would seem the Bulls have the best chance to make the playoffs if they are in a tight race with the Bobcats because of the two remaining games and the slightly better conference record at this point. Miami also remains close with the tiebreaker situation and similar conference record.

If the Bulls lose to Miami Friday, they will need to win March 25 to even the series. The Bulls have lost the tiebreaker to the Raptors and are trailing the Bucks, 1-2.

If there is more than a two team tie for the final spot, it comes down to a computation of head to head play for all three or four teams. Meaning each team figures up its head to head record against the others and the team with the best combined record wins the tiebreaker.

The Bulls are a combined 3-6 in tiebreakers against the other four teams, putting them at a disadvantage. Their best scenario for making the playoffs would be to beat Miami Friday and win at least one of the two remaining games against the Bobcats.

So how do you do that the way the Bulls have been defending–or not defending.

With Deng possibly out at least one game, the Bulls could go small with Flip Murray at the three. I’d go with Hakim Warrick at three, though they previously used James Johnson to start with Deng out.

The Magic is loaded with depth and healthy, making it a tough matchup if Orlando cares to play. They spread the court, shoot a lot of threes and when interested throw it to Dwight Howard. Their perimeter is weak defensively, so the Bulls should be able to score. Same against Miami, which will play a slow tempo, however. Brad Miller needs to pound on Howard because he gets frustrated, though it’s difficult to see enough defense to control Orlando.

Though it’s the second of a back to back, Miami can be controlled better other than Dwyane Wade. Kirk Hinrich generally has done a decent job bothering Wade, who has been worn out by little help this season. Otherwise, the Heat rely mostly on role players and play physically. If the Bulls can match that they can finally get in a game you can steal down the stretch.

Defense is less system now than effort. Coach Vinny Del Negro talked after the loss to the Jazz about so few players practicing because of injuries. So at this point it becomes whether they believe they can defend and win and whether they are committed to trying. Perhaps Del Negro needs to expand the bench some now to try to sustain effort as the best on defense against the Jazz came to open the fourth with a group of reserves.

Now, it’s less about reputation and minutes and name than getting it done. Whomever does stays out; whomever cannot sits.

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