Chicago Bulls: Power Ranking Potential First-Round Matchups

Michael Gibbons@DachicagofanCorrespondent IIMarch 23, 2012

Chicago Bulls: Power Ranking Potential First-Round Matchups

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    Can you believe the playoffs are nearly here?

    In just about a month the regular season will be concluding and the playoffs will be starting.

    And as expected the Chicago Bulls are right where they belong among the elite of the league. Currently they have the best record in the entire NBA at 39-10 and hold a three-game lead over the Miami Heat.

    They also have an eight and half game lead over the third place Orlando Magic.

    With only 17 games left of the season, it is hard to imagine them falling out of the top two. Normally I would say barring any major injury, but just about everyone on the Bulls has been hurt already.

    After the top three, the rest of the Eastern Conference is fairly close. Only nine and half games separate the fourth and 10th place teams. There are half of a dozen teams that could potentially meet the Bulls in the first round—the only two teams they most likely can't play are the Magic and Heat.

    So who will become the Bulls' unlucky victim in the first round?

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Right now the Cavs are a real long shot to make the playoffs, but it would be a nice story if they did.

    Can you imagine if the Heat and Cavs met in the playoffs, just one year after LeBron James took his talents to South Beach?

    Now back to the Bulls. Chicago has handled the Cavs with ease this season winning by 21 and 39 points. They beat them by 39 without Derrick Rose.

    They still have one game left to play this season, and hopefully we will finally get to see Rose take on Kyrie Irving, who missed the second game.

    The Cavs would probably be the easiest opponent for the Bulls, and I have no doubt that the series would end in a sweep for Chicago.

    January 20 at Cleveland. Bulls victory 114-75.

    March 2 at Cleveland. Bulls victory 112-91.

    Season Finale April 26 in Chicago.

New York Knicks

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    The Bulls have played the Knicks twice this season and actually still have two remaining games against them.

    The first two games were close under former coach Mike D'Antoni, and since his firing the Knicks have won five-straight games. Reportedly the move was made to help Carmelo Anthony, who fits better into new coach Mike Woodson's offense.

    Funny thing about that is: Anthony has failed to score over 20 points in the last five games.

    With the winning streak, the Knicks are sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot. They easily have the most star power out of any of the teams the Bulls could face, which I know worries some of the fans.

    With that being said, it could be a tough series with a lot of close games, but I can't imagine the series going more then five games—six at the maximum.

    February 2 at New York. Bulls victory 105-102.

    March 12 in Chicago. Bulls victory 104-99.

    April 8 at New York.

    April 10 in Chicago.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    To me this is the most interesting matchup.

    The Bulls have already faced the Bucks four times, and they have won all four. Two of them were close, and two were won fairly easily. 

    However, all of those games were before they made the blockbuster trade for Monta Ellis.

    Milwaukee is currently surging, going 7-3 in their last 10 games and are currently in ninth place just a game and a half behind the Knicks.

    It would be an interesting matchup for two reasons: the new addition of Ellis and the presence of Bulls fans in Milwaukee.

    During the two games that took place in Milwaukee this season, it almost sounded like the game was being held in Chicago. They could even call it the "I-94 Series" since Milwaukee is just a 90-minute ride north.

    Before the trade I would have said the Bulls would easily sweep, but I think Ellis or Brandon Jennings could get hot one game and steal it. Bulls win in five.

    January 27 in Chicago. Bulls victory 107-100.

    February 4 at Milwaukee. Bulls victory 113-90.

    February 22 in Chicago. Bulls victory 110-91.

    March 7 at Milwaukee. Bulls victory 106-104.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Bucks and the 76ers are the only teams on this list not to play the Bulls again. Unlike the Bucks, the 76ers did beat the Bulls once this season.

    Chicago won the season series 2-1, winning two close games, while losing one without Luol Deng. The one loss also came as the third game in four nights for the Bulls.

    While the 76ers lack the star power of the Knicks, they are a much harder matchup for the Bulls. The main reason for that is: They play tough defense like Chicago and spread the offense out.

    After coming out of the gates on fire earlier in the year, they have leveled off and have fallen back. They currently hold only a half game lead over the Boston Celtics.

    With the Bulls, Magic and Heat on top of the East, it means whoever wins the Atlantic division will be the four seed and whoever doesn't might have a first-round matchup against the Bulls or Heat.

    If the 76ers do end up playing the Heat, it won't be an easy series. I can imagine seeing something like what we saw last season against the Pacers. This series will go five or six games easily.

    February 1 at Philadelphia. 76ers victory 98-82.

    March 4 at Philadelphia. Bulls victory 96-91.

    March 17 in Chicago. Bulls victory 89-80.

Boston Celtics

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    If Milwaukee is my most interesting series, this is the series I most want to see.

    Back in 2009, during Derrick Rose's rookie season, the Bulls lost an epic seven-game series against Boston. In my opinion it would be nice to get a little revenge and possibly bring an end to their big three.

    And that is just one of the storylines that is bound to come up if these two teams square off.

    So far this season the Bulls have handled the Celtics pretty well with the only loss coming when Derrick Rose didn't play.

    Out of all those teams in the Atlantic division, the Celtics are probably the most desperate to win the race and secure that fourth seed. The difference between playing the Bulls without home-court advantage and playing the Pacers with home-court advantage is huge.

    I'd like to say the Bulls would sweep them because I know Rose hasn't forgotten losing that series, but I'm sure the Celtics could win a game or two. Bulls win in six.

    January 13 at Boston. Bulls victory 88-79.

    February 12 at Boston. Celtics victory 95-91.

    February 16 in Chicago. Bulls victory 89-80.

    April 5 in Chicago.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Earlier in the season if you asked me I would have said I'd much rather avoid the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs.

    Well that was before they lost center Al Horford for the season.

    They still remain a difficult matchup with guys like Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, but they are a different team without Horford. They are missing that guy who can disrupt what Joakim Noah does best.

    The Hawks have the talent to beat anyone on any given night. They have wins over the Bulls, Magic and Heat this season. However, them winning a series over any of those three is doubtful without Horford.

    The one loss the Bulls suffered to the Hawks came early in the season when the Bulls were playing nearly every night. Now that the Bulls get a few days off here and there it makes that schedule almost bearable.

    My guess is the Bulls would win in six, but they might surprise me and handle things in five.

    January 3 in Chicago. Bulls victory 76-74.

    January 7 at Atlanta. Hawks victory 109-94.

    February 20 in Chicago. Bulls victory 90-79.

    March 28 at Atlanta.

Indiana Pacers

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    Part of me wants nothing to do with the Indiana Pacers, while another part of me wants a motivated Derrick Rose to just destroy them.

    When the Pacers came to town early in the season and squeaked out a five-point victory, they were celebrating like they won a playoff series. Well that didn't sit well with the Bulls, and when the two teams met again, Chicago won by 20.

    Can you imagine if the Pacers win the final matchup and the two teams meet in the first round?

    While the Bulls won the series last season in five games, the Pacers gave them all they could handle in the first four.

    This season Indiana is improved with the addition of David West and an ever-improving and apparently growing Paul George.

    The Pacers provide some matchup problems and, with George, have a few long, athletic wings that can make life difficult for Rose.

    Indiana currently holds down the fifth seed, and it is hard to imagine them falling low enough for the Bulls to face them in the first round, but stranger things have happened. It is much more likely they meet in the second round.

    Much like everyone else on this list I can't see the Bulls losing the series, but if they aren't careful, the Pacers have the talent to push this to seven games.

    January 25 in Chicago. Pacers victory 95-90.

    March 5 in Chicago. Bulls victory 92-72.

    April 25 at Indiana.