The NBA Playoffs have just one meaningful race left: the race for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference (and future road-kill for the Cleveland Cavaliers).
Both Toronto and Chicago have five games left on their schedules, but the Bulls will only get two of those games on their home court—Toronto will host three opponents.
The Raptors have what appears to be the easier road at this point, and will have no one to blame but themselves if they are unable to hold onto the No. 8 seed.
The Bulls' next opponent is also the Cavs, followed by road games against the New Jersey Nets and Raptors (clearly a must-have for both teams). The Bulls end up with games against the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats.
The Raptors will face two playoff teams over the next five games, whereas the Bulls will play four (the Raptors, of course, being the fourth playoff team at the moment).
Sunday, the Bulls will travel to Toronto in a must-win for both teams—the game will undoubtedly have a playoff-atmosphere feel to it.
While on the surface the Bulls appear to have a significantly harder stretch in front of them, they might benefit from the developments of Tuesday night's Raptors game, in which star forward Chris Bosh left early after he had facial bones broken in a collision with Cavs forward Antawn Jamison.
Bosh, hospitalized over night, will be scratched for their game against the Boston Celtics, and it is uncertain when he'll return.
Any prolonged absence by the star forward would obviously help the Bulls gain any ground—but they'll have to gain fast.
Last night's loss at home to the Milwaukee Bucks could have been the nail in the coffin for the Bulls. They were outplayed by their former player, John Salmons, who torched them for 26 points.
In an ironic twist to improve the Bulls' future, they dealt Salmons away to clear cap space for the summer free agent bonanza of 2010; but in doing so, may have cost themselves a playoff spot this season.
One thing is clear: the Bulls need to play flawless basketball over the next seven days to have a chance at returning to the playoffs.
The Raptors will have to hold their own as well, and might need stellar games from Andrea Bargnani, Hedo Turkoglu, and DeMar DeRozan in the event that Bosh doesn't dress.
While neither team wants to be first-round mince-meat for the Cavaliers, both teams would still like to earn the No. 8 seed and extend their seasons.
As Herm Edwards once famously told us, "You play to win the game!"
Both teams need to take that to heart, because there's not much time left to grab a spot in the NBA's most exciting month-and-a-half.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!