With two games left in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls finally have a .500 record and sit in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls have a key matchup tonight with the Detroit Pistons, as a win would assure them of finishing no lower than seventh.
Before tonight's game, however, the Bulls can still finish anywhere from sixth to eighth in the East, and as such, will face off against one of the East's "Big Three"—Cleveland, Boston or Orlando. Each of these teams will be a tough task for the Bulls, so here is a breakdown of each potential matchup and the Bulls' chances of pulling an upset.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (65-15): Clinched No. 1 seed in the East
2008-2009 Season Series: 3-1 CLE
Regular Season Meetings:
Nov. 5: 107-93 loss
Nov. 8: 106-97 loss
Jan. 2: 117-92 loss
Jan. 15: 102-93 (OT) win
Don't look too much into the Bulls' victory in the final meeting against the Cavs. LeBron James had an awful night despite scoring 28 points, as he was just 8-for-28 from the field, including a miss at the buzzer which would have won the game in regulation.
The Bulls have been handled by the Cavs this year. Even though the Bulls have been playing their best basketball after the All-Star Break, and none of those games were against Cleveland, I don't think it will make a difference.
Cleveland has just one loss at home this season (39-1), so don't look for the Bulls to steal one of the first two games of this series to give them the advantage going back to Chicago.
Even if the Bulls were to win all three games at home, it is very unlikely that they will be able to win one in Cleveland.
Predicted Result: Cavaliers in Five
Chance of Upset: Five percent
2. Boston Celtics (60-20): Clinched No. 2 Seed in East
2008-2009 Season Series: 2-1 BOS
Regular Season Meetings:
Oct. 31: 96-80 loss
Dec. 19: 126-108 loss
Mar. 17: 127-121 win
The Bulls, being in the No. 7 spot in the East, are set for a first-round battle with the Celtics.
The Bulls played great in their home win over Boston, with new addition John Salmons going for a career-high tying 38 points on St. Patrick's Day. However, the Celts were without Kevin Garnett that night, and have been for the greater portion of the last two months because of a knee injury.
Garnett plans to return for Boston's regular-season finale on Wednesday against Washington, and if KG is healthy, the big three will be back together, and hard to beat.
One story that might be lost to those outside Boston in the wake of the Garnett injury is the emergence of Glen "Big Baby" Davis as his replacement. Davis has averaged 15.3 points in his last four games, and will be a force to be reckoned with down low. The addition of Brad Miller helps Chicago, but Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas will have a tough time with Davis and Garnett in the post.
One of the Bulls' biggest weaknesses this year has been their defense, as they allow the highest ppg totals of any playoff team at 102.6. Despite their successful run over these last few weeks, I don't know if they will have enough to stop the Celtics.
On top of that, don't forget that the Celtics are the defending champions, and that experience goes a long way. All of that aside, I think Boston is a much better opponent for the Bulls than the Cavs.
Predicted Result: Celtics in Five
Chance of Upset: 25 percent
3. Orlando Magic (58-22): Clinched No. 3 Seed in East
2008-2009 Season Series: 2-1 ORL
Regular Season Meetings:
Nov. 3: 96-93 loss
Dec. 31: 113-94 loss
Feb. 24: 120-102 win
Mar. 11: 107-79 loss
The Bulls are currently tied with Philadelphia at 40-40 overall, but lose the second tie-breaker of conference record. If the Bulls can overtake the 76ers, they will move up to sixth place and face the Orlando Magic.
Again, don't let the one Bulls win fool you. The Bulls played well, but it was their first win over Orlando in seven games, and the first time beating the Magic at home in their last six meetings in Chicago.
Dwight Howard is a monster inside, and similar to KG and Big Baby on the Celtics, I don't think the Bulls have an answer for him. In the four meetings this season, Howard averaged 19.5 points and 12.5 rebounds, and in two of the blowout Magic wins, played less than 30 minutes.
The Magic have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and have built on their experience by winning their first-round series last year.
Again, the Bulls lack of defense will be their weakness, as the Magic have the highest offensive points per game average of the top three teams at 101.4 per game. The combination of Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu provides big scoring threats, and Rafer Alston running the point will provide plenty of opportunities for them to score.
The Magic are the most beatable of the three teams at home, but that isn't saying much as their record in Orlando is 31-9.
Predicted Result: Magic in Six
Chance of Upset: 30 percent
While I have essentially said that the Bulls don't appear likely to get out of the first round, I'm not trying to get down on this team. The Bulls have become a new team since the trading deadline, both with the addition of new players and their play on the court.
However, there is a reason that 12 games separate the third-place Magic and the fourth-place Hawks in the standings, and as long as the Bulls face any of these three, their chances of advancing aren't good.
I'm still hoping for an upset, but what I'm expecting is some good playoff experience for this young team and a building block for 2010.