The gritty Chicago Bulls have positioned themselves to land the No. 3 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, and with the way things are shaping up, it's critical that they secure it.
Many different scenarios could unfold in the season's final week, with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers battling for the No. 1 seed, and the Bulls and Toronto Raptors duking it out for the No. 3 spot.
The Pacers currently possess a half-game lead in the win column on Miami, but this could change quickly as Indiana visits South Beach on Friday. The Pacers also still have to play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Due to Indiana's recent struggles, it wouldn't be surprising in the least for them to lose the top seed to Miami. In fact, it would be more shocking if it didn't happen.
|Miami Heat||Indiana Pacers|
|vs. Indiana||@ Miami|
|@ Atlanta||vs. Oklahoma City|
|@ Washington||@ Orlando|
If Miami does earn the top slot, then the No. 3 seed becomes increasingly desirable for Chicago. Not only could they avoid playing the veteran-laden Brooklyn Nets in the opening round, but they could also look at matching up against the flailing Pacers in the second round.
Competing against the youthful Washington Wizards or Charlotte Bobcats is much more appealing than greeting a Brooklyn squad that has found its chemistry, and it's decidedly clear that playing Indiana would be much more ideal than meeting the defending champs.
Seeding matters. That's the bottom line. As much as it will be discussed as if it's a minor issue, there are two different roads at stake for Chicago.
One is full of promise, with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals very much within reason. The other is full of concern, with a potential first-round exit a strong possibility and an almost guaranteed ousting in the second round.
The unfortunate thing for the Bulls in their quest for the No. 3 spot is that they need some help. They are currently tied with Toronto, but Toronto holds the tiebreaker. The Bulls need a Toronto loss at some point to have any chance at notching the No. 3 seed.
|Chicago Bulls||Toronto Raptors|
|vs. Detroit||vs. New York|
|@ New York||@ Detroit|
|vs. Orlando||vs. Milwaukee|
|@ Charlotte||@ New York|
Neither Chicago nor Toronto has any games left against elite opponents, but there are still most definitely games that either team could lose. For instance, each team will see the New York Knicks (Toronto sees them twice), who are fighting for a playoff spot.
If Toronto drops a game and the Bulls win out, Chicago will obtain the No. 3 spot. It's not outside the realm of reason for this to unfold.
There could obviously still be the scenario in which Indiana acquires the top spot, which would mean that a third-seeded Bulls team would face Miami in the second round, if they could get there.
In the event that Indiana gains the top slot, should the Bulls be content to sit at the No. 4 seed so they could avoid Miami in the second round?
This is a debatable topic. On the one hand, it would be ideal to dodge Miami until the Eastern Conference Finals.
On the other, it would still be scary to take on Brooklyn in the first round. While the Bulls defeated them in last year's playoffs, this Nets team is deeper and features more playoff experience.
Basically, if Miami snatches the top spot and the Bulls the No. 3 seed, then the table is set perfectly for Chicago. Any other scenario is problematic for the Bulls in their quest to make a deep playoff push.
No matter what, Chicago will be a tough out for any foe because the Bulls thrive on tenacity and energy. If they go down, they won't go down without a fight, and their opponent should head to the next series carrying a bunch of bruises.
Yet the Bulls lack firepower, and they need things to fall in their favor in terms of their playoff road. It's doubtful that they can make noise against the star-studded Heat, but they can against anybody else in the Eastern Conference, even Indiana.
While the Pacers are stellar, they play similarly to the Bulls, and they don't have nearly the multifaceted weapons of the Heat. A second-round matchup with them would certainly be intriguing.
If the Bulls snag the No. 3 seed and go on to knock off Washington or Charlotte and then Indiana en route to a conference finals clash with Miami, the 2013-14 campaign will be a remarkable success for Chicago.
To be without Derrick Rose and also witness the departure of Luol Deng and yet still accomplish so much would be unbelievable. The Bulls have already had a superb year considering the circumstances, and it could be all the more solidified with a playoff run.
Chicago's playoff upside is apparent because of its top-notch defense, but its potential could become all the more bright if it secures the No. 3 seed and the table is set in an optimal manner. The Bulls could then become a main storyline of the 2014 playoffs.
Haddon Anderson is a Chicago Bulls Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here.