By Shawn Muller–
If the Chicago Bulls are going to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference this season, they are going to have to do just that…EARN it.
With just 28 games remaining in the regular season, Chicago is right in the thick of the race for the top-seed along with the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. The Celtics own the top spot as of today over the Heat by mere percentage points, but neither team should sleep on the Bulls. Chicago is only two games behind Boston and two and a half games behind Miami. The Bulls could easily surpass both teams within the next couple of months…assuming the team can find a way to win on the road.
Of the current playoff teams in the East, the Bulls have the fifth best road record (13-12), and the worst road record amongst the Celtics and the Heat. While sixteen of the Bulls final 28 games are on the road, the next ten games could go a long way in determining whether or not Chicago has a legitimate shot at catching Boston and Miami.
Seven of the teams’ next ten games are on the road, starting Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls return home on Thursday for a showdown with the Miami Heat, only to head back out on the road for a grueling five game stretch that includes matchups with the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, and the Miami Heat.
The good news for Chicago is that Joakim Noah is expected to return to the lineup within the next couple of weeks, so we may expect to see him take the court in a minimal fashion. It is going to take Noah some time to get back into “game shape”, but his mere presence on the basketball court is going to take some of the pressure off of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and the resurgent Luol Deng. The Bulls have done a tremendous job without Joakim Noah–going 28-9 during his absence–but with the top seed likely to be decided on the road, his return to the lineup could not come at a better time.
Obviously the next ten games will not serve as the “end-all be- all” for the Bulls hopes of earning the number one seed in the East. Many things can happen between now and the end of the regular season for Chicago, as well as the Heat and the Celtics. It is easy sometimes to down play (and over play) regular season wins and losses, but no other team in the NBA this season has been a bigger mystery than the Chicago Bulls.
While the Celtics and the Heat have gone stretches this season without key personnel, neither team has been bitten by the injury bug like the Bulls have. It is well documented that Chicago has only played a total of nine games this season at full strength, going 7-2 in that stretch in early December. It is almost scary to think about just how good the Bulls record would be if they had been at full strength this entire time. I for one, am glad that the Bulls have faced adversity unlike any other title contender have seen thus far. We got a chance to see reserves play more minutes, and the starters have gotten the chance to gain more confidence without Noah.
This team KNOWS it can win without everyone available for long stretches. The same cannot be said for the Celtics and the Heat.
That fact cannot be ignored as we inch closer and closer to the playoffs.
Do you agree with Shawn? Post your comments below.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24.