Post 2014 NBA All-Star Break Predictions for the Chicago Bulls
Going into the break with a plus-.500 record seemed unlikely after losing their MVP Derrick Rose to a knee injury and trading long-time Bull Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers. With hard-nosed defense and a resilience that’s second to none, however, Chicago continues to grind out victories.
The Bulls have 30 games left this season and currently hold the No. 4 seed in the East, with a chance to finish in the top three. It's a close race, though, as the last six spots are separated by just 5.5 games.
Chicago’s salary-cap situation also is a big issue, as the team finds itself just a few hundred thousand dollars below the luxury tax threshold. This ties in with whether or not the Bulls will move a player or two to give themselves some financial comfort around the trade deadline.
So what will happen as the Bulls finish off the last two months of the NBA season?
Note: All stats gathered from ESPN.com and are accurate as of Feb. 18.
Chicago Will Stand Pat at the Trade Deadline
The Bulls could solve their tax situation by simply moving a player, but chances are Chicago won’t make much noise come Feb. 20.
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported Chicago won’t be a major player prior to the trade deadline, unless the right deal comes along. Bulls general manager Gar Forman further said that “nothing has presented itself,” despite being in contact with all 29 teams.
The likely players to be traded are Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy Jr., but due to Hinrich's injury history, Dunleavy seems like the more attractive player.
That seems to be the case, too, but it looks like the Bulls won’t part ways with Dunleavy. USA Today's Sam Amick said many teams are inquiring about the 12-year NBA veteran, but Chicago values him and won’t deal him for just any price.
If the Bulls don't make a move, they won't have to pay any luxury tax.
The Bulls Will Not Pay Luxury Tax
The Bulls will be just $626,578 under the tax after Jarvis Varnado finishes his 10-day contract, giving them little room to make any signings for the remainder of the season.
Chicago’s front office seems to be trying everything not to pay the luxury tax, the main reason they traded Deng and Marquis Teague. The Bulls will most likely trudge along with as few players as they can before having to use another 10-day contract as the league allows teams to have 12 players on the roster for just two weeks.
That figure drastically would cut the Bulls remaining cap room, as ShamSports.com’s Mark Deeks points out in his in-depth look at the Bulls’ cap situation.
If Gibson meets the requirements for his bonus, the Bulls will have to keep maneuvering carefully around their signings, making sure they can stay under the tax threshold.
The Bulls are close, but they will likely be able to stay under the luxury tax. Expect a few more 10-day contracts as the season winds down.
Chicago Will Finish the Second Half with a Winning Record
With 30 games left, Chicago still has some tough games, both at home and on the road.
They’ll visit and host the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, and they’ll have to face off against some of the toughest Western Conference teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
The Bulls have done a great job of winning games with their defense, ranking second in the league in points allowed per game and third in opponent field-goal percentage.
Players like Gibson and D.J. Augustin have stepped up tremendously and helped to lift Chicago to its plus-.500 record. The most essential piece has been Noah, who just played in his second consecutive All-Star game and has been stuffing the stat sheet on a nightly basis.
Chicago has some tough matchups coming up, but it has the roster and style to keep every game within its reach. As long as the Bulls continue to play like they have during the last few weeks, they’ll finish off this second half on a positive note.
The Bulls Will Be a Top-Four Seed
Chicago is currently the No. 4 seed and is 1.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors. Both teams will face off on Feb. 19 in Toronto, giving the Bulls a chance to narrow the gap.
Chicago is only four games ahead of the No. 8 seed, though, leaving little room for error in its remaining 30 games. There are still more than a few winnable games, and the Bulls have a slight advantage with 16 of their games at home.
After taking the Nets to a seven-game series last year as the fifth seed last season, Chicago could benefit from home-court advantage to possibly end a series faster. The Bulls are 12-15 on the road, which isn’t great, but it’s still a better road record than the Hawks’ and the Nets’, two possible opponents during the postseason.
A top-four seed doesn’t guarantee Chicago a spot in the conference semifinals, but having that advantage will surely help.
Chicago Will Push the Conference Semifinals to at Least Six Games
Chicago won’t win a title this year, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make one of the top two teams have to work for their spot in the conference finals.
Chances are both the Heat and Pacers will advance to the second round, and the Bulls will face off against one of those two teams, depending on their seeding.
Miami has dominated the Bulls in the playoffs over the past few years, Chicago has found a way to remain competitive. Ideally, though, the Bulls will play the Pacers, a team they match up with better due to their similar styles.
Against Miami, Chicago would have the size advantage inside. Their rim protection and ability to close out has given the Heat many problems in the past. Unfortunately for the Bulls, they’ve won just two playoff games against them in the last three years.
Playing Indiana would be a sort of mirror match. Both teams play smothering defense and like to play at a slower pace. It’d be low-scoring game after low-scoring game, but the Bulls excel in those types of matches, which could play in their favor when the series goes to Chicago.
Both matchups are heated rivalries, and that’s more than enough motivation for the Bulls. With Gibson’s improved offense and rim protection, Noah’s elevated play and coach Tom Thibodeau’s leadership, the Bulls are equipped to give either team a real battle.
The Bulls are on a mission to prove that they can win, no matter who is on the floor, and there’s no better stage to show that than during the playoffs.