Are the Bulls and Heat getting just what they want?


Apr 24

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The Bulls play the Indiana Pacers Wednesday in what should be the final meeting this season between the Central Division’s top two teams.

That’s because with Boston’s win over Miami Tuesday, the Bulls clinched the No. 1 seed and record in the Eastern Conference. That likely means a playoff opening against the Philadelphia 76ers, though that is not assured yet. But it does mean the Bulls are in the opposite bracket from Miami and Indiana and likely would meet one if the Bulls make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In many respects, it appears both the Bulls and Heat got what they likely wanted in the matchups, even if neither team would ever admit to that. The Pacers probably were more inclined for an earlier matchup with the Bulls.

Initially, the question may be how the Bulls and Pacers approach Wednesday’s basically meaningless game in Indianapolis. The Bulls now have the top seed and the Pacers are locked into No. 3 and probably a first round matchup with the Orlando Magic. That would mean almost a certain move into the conference semifinals since the Magic is without Dwight Howard and seem to have almost no chance to win a round, perhaps even a game.

There’s still a chance the Knicks can move up to the sixth spot and face Indiana if New York beats the Clippers and Bobcats and if the Magic lose to the Bobcats and Grizzlies.

But that has no impact on Wednesday’s Bulls/Pacers game. So far both coaches have said they intend, other than what’s going on with most of the other playoff teams, to play their regular rotations. Though Indiana could be without injured Danny Granger, who would be ready for the playoffs.

The Bulls don’t take many games off, and the thinking now is with so many players injured for so long and now everyone back, including Derrick Rose, it’s important to begin playing the rotations together. The danger, of course, is that there could be an injury, and this is something of a rivalry, though perhaps more to the Pacers.

The Bulls defeated the Pacers 4-1 in last season’s opening round playoff series. But the games were close, especially the first two in Chicago that the Pacers felt they could or should have won. Plus, the games were physical with flagrant fouls and the Pacers believing they could rough up the Bulls. Then, during this season when the Pacers won in Chicago, there were suggestions by Rose the Pacers celebrated too much, which Pacers players and coach Frank Vogel took exception to and questioned Rose and the Bulls.

So if this may be the last meeting between the teams—-though Indiana probably wouldn’t look at it that way as they believe they can get to the conference final–is this a chance for someone to get in some rough stuff?

One of the Pacers players is affectionately known as “psycho.”

The Bulls first round matchup is not set yet since New York and Philadelphia are tied at 34-30. The Knicks have the tiebreaker and that chance to get to sixth, which would avoid Miami or the Bulls in the first round. And the Knicks are 2-1 against Indiana. So they also have an intriguing decision whether to play everyone and figure the Magic will lose or not take risks. After all, there’s only a day or two between the end of the regular season and opening of the playoffs because of the shortened season.

The 76ers finish on the road in Milwaukee and Detroit, a tougher last two games than the Knicks and perhaps less to play for. Philadelphia cannot move up to No. 6 as Orlando has the tiebreaker. And though the 76ers would be big underdogs against either the Bulls or Miami, you figure they’d rather play the Bulls.

The 76ers are 1-2 against the Bulls this season after going 2-1 against the Bulls last season. In contrast, the 76ers were swept by the Heat this season and lost 4-1 to Miami in the first round last season. Miami is locked into the No. 2 seed, and you figure the 76ers would most want to avoid them.

So it most looks like a Bulls/76ers series to open at 1 vs 8 and 4 vs 5 in the same bracket with Atlanta and Boston. Boston wins the Atlantic Division to get the No. 4 seed, but the Hawks probably will have home-court advantage.

You generally don’t want to be too confident about your favored matchup in the playoffs. But it would seem the way it is setting up now both the Bulls and Heat get the matchups they preferred.

Miami has had its most problems—other than with the Bulls—with Boston. That may be one reason they haven’t appeared to push too hard for the No. 1 seed. That would have meant a likely second round series with Boston, which defeated the Heat two of three before the game between the subs Tuesday won by the Celtics. But Miami only won early in the season when the Celtics were in turmoil. And then the Celtics won decisively twice in early April. The sense around Miami is they have the best chance to get back to the Finals if they can avoid Boston.

Although Derrick Rose didn’t play last week against the Heat, the supposed view around Miami was the Bulls would be less of an issue because Miami could play Chicago physically as well and have success.

And that the Bulls likely would knock out Boston before the Celtics could get to the conference finals. That probably is the case, assuming, of course, Rose is recovered. Although the 76ers have given the Bulls trouble at times, the 76ers closed the season poorly and with internal issues. The sense is they were relieved just to make it and major roster changes are coming.

That compares with the Knicks, who have the explosive scorers and have played tough games with the Bulls. The Bulls were 3-1 over the Knicks, but their first two wins were down to the last possessions. Miami swept the Knicks, meanwhile.

Also, the Bulls are 3-1 against the Celtics with a big edge in size–on the boards and off the bench. In addition, the Bulls were 3-1 against Atlanta with blowout wins the last two games. Atlanta is without Al Horford, who may or may not return in the playoffs. Plus, the Bulls handled the Hawks reasonably well in a 4-2 conference semifinals last season, and that was with Horford at full health.

So a 76ers and then Boston or Atlanta route would seemingly set up best for the Bulls. While a New York and then Indiana route likely would set up preferably for the Heat. Thus leading to the supposedly inevitable Miami/Chicago Eastern Conference Finals matchup.

Which is not to say such a conference finals matchup is a certainty, given the health issues around both the Heat and Bulls, and the Pacers and Celtics, for example, not all that impressed with either Miami or Chicago.

In a few days, it all starts and we can forget the speculation and examine the realities. It should be entertaining.

Here is a look back at when Bulls have had the best record in the conference, as well as the result:

1990-91 Won championship

1991-92 Won championship

1995-96 Won championship

1996-97 Won championship

1997-98 Won championship

2010-11 Lost conference finals

* Bulls won the division in 1974-75 and lost in conference finals.

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