As we say farewell to the NBA's All-Star festivities, teams around the league are getting set to resume action for the second half.
With just 28 games left, the Chicago Bulls are in the hunt for a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference and will welcome back star center Joakim Noah in the coming days.
Noah, out since December with an injured thumb, will provide an immediate boost to a team that doesn't really need one—but will surely take it.
The Bulls are an impressive 38-16, far exceeding their preseason expectations and showing no signs of letting up.
If the playoffs started today, the Bulls would earn the No. 3 seed in the east and play host to the New York Knicks.
The winner of a Bulls-Knicks series would get to face the Miami Heat (assuming the Heat defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, or whomever the No. 7 seed would be).
But before we get to that point, let's look at the 28 games left on the Bulls' schedule and predict what their final record would be.
Feb. 23 @ Toronto Raptors
Win. The Bulls ease into second half play with a nice tune-up game against a team that really misses Chris Bosh.
Feb. 24 vs. Miami Heat
Loss. Bosh's new team hands the Bulls their first loss in the second half—and just their fifth loss at the United Center this season. If Dwyane Wade is unable to dress, (he tweaked his ankle Sunday in the All-Star game) then the Bulls can steal a victory in this nationally televised game.
Feb. 26 @ Milwaukee Bucks
Win. The Bucks never got rolling in 2010-11, and their roll won't begin against the Bulls, who will be bitter after the Miami loss.
Feb. 28 @ Washington Wizards
Win. The Wizards are a dreadful 1-26 on the road, but are respectable at home (14-13), which could mean this game won't be a rout by the Bulls—who have actually had their problems in the past in the nation's capitol. President Barack Obama will have nice seats for a Bulls victory and it will be fun to see Derrick Rose take on John Wall.
March 2 @ Atlanta Hawks
Win. The first of three "murderer's row"-type games, the Bulls sneak out of Atlanta with a win. All-Star forward Al Horford of the Hawks tangles with would-be All-Star Joakim Noah of the Bulls in a matchup of ex-Florida Gators. The Bulls will empty the tank in getting this victory, knowing the remaining road trip is extremely brutal.
March 4 @ Orlando Magic
Loss. See? The Bulls have been on the road for a week at this point, and their tired legs won't be able to stop Dwight Howard—who put up 40 points the last time these two teams met—and a small army of Magic sharpshooters.
March 6 @ Miami Heat
Loss. This won't be easy either. Another game against the conference's elite, another loss. The Bulls will show up to compete, but an 11 AM eastern tip means Derrick Rose and company will sleep-walk through the first 24 minutes—they'll be trailing at the half by at least a dozen and another national television audience wonders how good the Bulls are.
March 7 vs. New Orleans Hornets
Loss. The Bulls return home, but their losing ways follow them. After a difficult road trip, the Bulls, with no off-day to lick their wounds, fall to the Hornets in a close one.
March 9 @ Charlotte Bobcats
Win. The Bulls hit the road again, but are determined to end their three-game losing streak in front of His Airness, Michael Jordan. Derrick Rose scores 35 as he refuses to lose a fourth straight game.
March 11 vs. Atlanta Hawks
Win. The Bulls opened March with a win over the Hawks in Atlanta, and it's more of the same at home in the United Center with a convincing victory.
March 12 vs. Utah Jazz
Win. The tired Jazz (who conclude a four-game road trip in Chicago) are no match for the Bulls. Derrick Rose gets the best of Deron Williams again, and the Jazz limp back to Salt Lake City struggling to stay in the playoff picture out west.
March 15 vs. Washington Wizards
Win. I mentioned earlier the dreadful road record for the Wizards (1-26 at the start of the second half), so it's no wonder they lose this game. The Bulls have two days off before this game, and they win by 85 points before heading on a mini road-trip.
March 17 @ New Jersey Nets
Win. The Bulls are rolling, and nothing—not even the possible presence of Carmelo Anthony—can stop them at this point. Except....
March 18 @ Indiana Pacers
Loss. The winning streak comes to a halt in Indianapolis as the Pacers, fighting for their playoff lives, defeat the Bulls. The Bulls had been undefeated against the central division up to this point. Oh well.
March 21 vs. Sacramento Kings
Win. The Kings are bad.
March 22 @ Atlanta Hawks
Loss. It's the third game against the Hawks in three weeks, but the first loss for the Bulls comes as All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford out-score Bulls stars Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer. Former Bull Jamal Crawford scores 25 points despite not attempting a single pass the entire night.
March 25 vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Win. Memphis needs wins to have a shot at the No. 8 seed in the west, but the Bulls have lost two of their last three, and need a victory themselves. Memphis heavyweight Zach Randolph needs a double cheeseburger after the loss.
March 26 @ Milwaukee Bucks
Win. The Bulls get their 50th win at the hands of former Bulls head man Scott Skiles, who the Bucks tuned out weeks ago.
March 28 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Win. The only thing better than 50 wins is 51 wins. In a perfect world, the Bulls would have 76 wins, but that's just silly.
March 30 @ Minnesota Timberwolves
Win. With the exception of All-Star Kevin Love and forward Michael Beasley, the Timberwolves are simply a really good college team. The Bulls, on the other hand, are a really good NBA team. The NBA team wins this one.
April 1 @ Detroit Pistons
Loss. No joke. The terrible Pistons are good enough at home to beat the Bulls on this April Fool's Day, as Pistons guard Ben Gordon records 13 assists. OK, that was a joke.
April 2 vs. Toronto Raptors
Win. The Bulls open a three-game homestand with an easy win against a very uninspired Raptors team.
April 5 vs. Phoenix Suns
Win. The Suns aren't what they used to be. They may be in the hunt for a playoff berth in the west, but the Bulls are the superior team and get a comfortable win before a key game against the hated Celtics.
April 7 vs. Boston Celtics
Win. The Bulls' 55th win is one of its sweetest. This game goes down to the wire, but Derrick Rose makes a huge case for his candidacy as the league's MVP on national television. Boston remains the top dog in the east, and a potential playoff series looms for these two squads.
April 8 @ Cleveland Cavaliers
Win. The Cavs' franchise is ready to fold as the Bulls run out to a 65-30 halftime lead. Keith Bogans goes bananas and scores 40 (he only had four double-digit scoring performances before this game—hence the reason for the inevitable fold of the franchise).
April 10 @ Orlando Magic
Loss. A four-game win-streak is snapped in the second-to-last road game of the regular season. The loss hurts, as the Magic have been chasing the Bulls for the coveted No. 3 seed in the east.
April 12 @ New York Knicks
Win. The last road game of the year is a preview of a first-round series matchup—and the Bulls offer a glimpse of what's to come the Knicks way in the playoffs. The Bulls slow up the Knicks' fast-paced style of play and win by 10 points.
April 13 vs. New Jersey Nets
Loss. The Bulls end the regular season with 57 wins by resting all key players in the home and regular season finale. Keith Bogans goes crazy again, this time notching 50 points. Omer Asik gets his first career triple-double with 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 20 blocks—it's the first triple-double of many for the Turkish legend.
There you have it. I've got the Bulls at 57-25 and a likely No. 3 seed in the east.
57 wins would far exceed the 50 wins most "experts" would have had the Bulls winning before the season began.
The Bulls look like a safe bet to get a top-four seed and home-court advantage for at least one playoff series.
Figuring the Bulls posted the third-best record in the East for the first half, one would have to assume the return of Joakim Noah would only enhance the Bulls' potential for a terrific second half.
It also doesn't hurt the Bulls by not having to face any of the top five seeds in the West (San Antonio, Dallas, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Portland).
The second half starts in two days for the Bulls. Chicago fans everywhere are gearing up for what should be a memorable ride.
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