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Do the Bulls have a plan to make the playoffs?
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 15
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If the Bulls want to have a chance to make the playoffs, it looks like they’ll have to lose the next three games.
Stay with me here as that seems to make sense.
No one is suggesting the Bulls are going to lose on purpose. But if there’s a week to rest up for a last stand this would be it.
The Bulls play in Memphis Tuesday and Dallas Wednesday, and then back home to face Cleveland Friday before going to Philadelphia Saturday.
Even healthy, the Bulls would be big underdogs on the road against winning Memphis and Dallas teams and at home against the Cavs, the league’s hottest team.
So with Derrick Rose with a sprained wrist from Thursday’s collision with Dwight Howard, Luol Deng with a calf injury and Joakim Noah with plantar fasciitis and out anyway, it makes sense to sit all three until Saturday in Philadelphia and then make one last run for the playoffs.
It sounds like that’s what’s happening, anyway, as Rose said at practice Monday he’d like to play Tuesday where he played his college ball but has been told not to rush. Deng suggested after Friday’s loss in Miami he’s not ready and Noah has only begun workouts with the team.
Maybe bring both back rested for the 76ers, who are the next sub-.500 team the Bulls will see after a run of nine straight games against winning teams. The Bulls should be working on a 10-game losing streak by then, and, yes, still with a chance to make the playoffs. No, that’s not saying much for the Eastern Conference. Or, at least, the Raptors.
Toronto is in the same playoff death spiral as the Bulls with nine losses in their last 10 games and falling below .500 at 32-33 and one game ahead of the Bulls, though with the playoff tiebreaker. Which means the Bulls must finish one game ahead of the Raptors to make the playoffs.
Yes, it’s possible the Bucks, Heat or Bobcats fall as Miami and Charlotte are just three games ahead of the Bulls. But those three teams have been playing well and barring a major injury seem likely to remain ahead of Toronto and the Bulls.
I know it’s not in the spirit of competition to give up games. But there’s also the matter of protecting your valuable assets, meaning players. The Cavs already have been sitting out LeBron James some games to preserve him. It’s relatively common now around the NBA. Rose is the cornerstone of the franchise and you cannot afford to risk further injury in a few games that he’d obviously have to extend himself to have the team compete. Sure, there are exceptions, like the Knicks winning in Dallas last week. And if the Knicks can why not the Bulls? If not now, when? If not us, who?
Sure, it’s possible. And Rose and Deng could return at any point.
But there are all sorts of gambles going on, and you have to look at playing the odds.
The odds suggest the Bulls have the best chance to get some wins when the schedule begins to turn Saturday. They play eight games against winning teams after that, but only two against so called super teams, meaning those at least 10 games over .500. And both of those games, against the Suns and Cavs, are at home, and the Cavs could have clinched home court advantage by then and might be resting players.
Starting this week, the Bulls and Raptors have similar closing schedules in terms of difficulty.
Both teams have 17 games remaining, each with nine at home. Both have five back to back sets. The Bulls play 11 against teams with winning records and the Raptors nine. But the Raptors have seven games against those at least 10 over .500 while the Bulls have four against those top teams, including two in the last week of the season when the Cavs and Celtics could be resting players.
The combined record of the teams the Bulls are playing to finish the season is 551-568.
The combined record of the teams the Raptors are playing to finish the season is 538-581.
The Bulls face three winning teams on the road, though only one, Charlotte in the final game of the season April 14, after Wednesday.
The Raptors face four winning teams on the road, including Cleveland and Atlanta, and a back to back set in Miami and Charlotte later this month.
Chris Bosh blasted the team after they lost in Golden State Saturday. Coach Jay Triano benched Jarrett Jack and Andrea Bargnani Sunday night in the loss to Portland for dispirited play. Is it better to have injured players or healthy ones playing poorly?
Not a great choice.
After Saturday’s game in Philadelphia, where coach Eddie Jordan is under siege and he already has started playing kids for veterans, the Bulls play seven of nine at home with the road games in Detroit and Washington.
So that would seem to be the time to make a run if the team still is capable. If they are, you’d want Rose and Deng healthier, which presumably they would be with at least a week each off. And there is the likelihood Noah would begin to play at least limited minutes next week. Perhaps March 25 against Miami, which would be four weeks since his last game. There still would be 12 games left.
The Bulls are 31-34. You figure 41 wins gives you a good chance to make the playoffs. Say the Bulls lose the next three to fall to 31-37. They’d need a 10-4 finish, though only two of those games are against teams well above .500. You’d think with a heavy home schedule the Bulls would have a shot at that, or at least a chance to get to April 11 in Toronto and make that game meaningful. And then see what happens.
So maybe this week the lineup of Jannero Pargo, Flip Murray, James Johnson, Taj Gibson (maybe rest him for Hakim Warrick) and Brad Miller steals a game this week. Ouch. OK, maybe not. So what.
Get as close to healthy as you can be by Saturday and then see what you have. Sounds like a plan to me. After all, it’s not like you are doing any of this for extra lottery balls. It’s to make the playoffs, and that’s worth whatever it takes.