The Eastern Conference is coming down to a photo finish. The Bulls and Celtics stand tied atop the division, with the Heat lurking only two and a half games behind. Anything could happen during the last few weeks in the regular season, but it looks as if one of these teams will lock up the top seed in the East. However, which one has the best shot?
The Boston Celtics currently have the advantage over the Chicago Bulls for the top spot in the East, due to holding a 2-1 edge in head-to-head games. There is a huge battle between these two clubs upcoming on April 7th in Chicago, but then they will travel South Beach on April 10th to take on the Heat, with a game against the Wizards in between.
The Celtics hold the top defense in the league, even without the recently traded Kendrick Perkins. Rondo has certainly implemented himself into the "Big Three" as a key player to Boston's survival. Perkins being out of the picture could hurt Boston in the long run, but it has yet to take a tremendous effect. The Celtics have a relatively tough schedule from here on out, with a game in San Antonio added to their games in Miami and Chicago, which could make it somewhat difficult to overcome the surging Chicago Bulls.
Chances of winning the East: 40 percent
Boston created a "Big Three". Miami did the same.
As for Chicago, they have Rose and the average to good nine. A strong defense, productive bench and humble leader are what Chicago can boast. Derrick Rose has led the Bulls to their first 50 win season since the 1997-1998 championship team in Michael Jordan's final season as a Bull. This team can certainly hang in with anybody, beating every team in the league other than the Knicks.
The Bulls have dealt with nagging injuries all season, though. Carlos Boozer just came back (again) after having a hurt ankle. He missed the first month of the season, Joakim Noah has missed large chunks at a time, Taj Gibson is currently in a walking boot and Derrick Rose has been beat up due to his excessive touches and minutes all season.
If the Bulls can keep their main contributors healthy, they should win the East. It could all come down to that April 7 meeting where the Bulls host Boston.
Oh, and of course, they have the White Mamba, Brian Scalabrine!
Chances of winning the East: 45 percent
They've headlined newspapers, been on the top plays almost daily, and attracted fans wherever they've gone, but can the Miami Heat make a run at the East? They are currently three games back in the loss column behind the Bulls and Celtics, but have the talent to beat the Celtics at home, along with the rest of their relatively easy schedule. The lack of a superior point guard could hurt them, with Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby taking the ball up court, but when James, Wade and Bosh are all on, it's remarkably difficult to stop them. The Heat have survived a five game skid, skepticism and harsh environments, but have overcome it all in order to be in eyesight of first place with the finish line right around the corner.
Chances of winning the East: 15 percent
Each team has a winning record on the road, so playing the eventual one seed on the road will obviously be more challenging, but will not be insurmountable. However, the Bulls have the best home record of the three and the worst road record. Simply looking at that, I think Chicago winning the East improves its chances the most down the road in the playoffs.
I feel like the Bulls will persevere through this talented crowd of three. They have the second easiest schedule of the bunch, with Miami having the easiest, but also start having a two and a half game lead over the Heat with only 12 games remaining.
Boston has the strongest schedule remaining, so it would be difficult for them to hang in with the Bulls, but at the same time very doable. The lack of Kendrick Perkins could hurt them, as teams could be able to expose that as a weakness. Garnett, Allen and Pierce know how to win, so do not put it past them to play hard in the clutch to pull through the East.
It should all come down to the final showdown in Chicago, where the Bulls will attempt to even the score against the Celtics. No matter how you look at it or which team you expect to win, this should be an interesting, intense and enjoyable ride to the end.