Can the Chicago Bulls Catch the San Antonio Spurs for the Top Record in the NBA?
The San Antonio spurs have rested comfortably atop the NBA for the majority of the season. However, after a series of injuries to key starters and four straight losses, teams in the rear view mirror are just as close as they appear.
Contrastingly, after a 13-3 record in March and the help of a surging MVP candidate, the Chicago Bulls have positioned themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference.
With the Bulls fighting off the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat for control of the East and eight games remaining on the schedule, can Derrick Rose and company catch the Spurs and climb to the top?
The Bulls stand at 54-20, three games back from the NBA-leading Spurs. Chicago has won 13 of its last 15 games, has six out of eight games against teams under .500, and the eight opponents combine for a 255-358 record.
On the other hand, San Antonio's opponents combine for a 315-268 record. Add that on to injuries to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (the team's three leading scorers) and a top spot shuffle isn't out of reach.
The final stretch for the Spurs features games against the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, all difficult matchups for the struggling Spurs squad.
Here is a game-by-game breakdown of the remaining games for the Chicago Bulls...
April 1 at Detroit
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The Bulls begin the eight-game stretch on Friday with day one of a back-to-back matches.
First up, the Detroit Pistons.
Chicago holds a 3-0 record on the season against Detroit, who has lost four out of its last five games.
With aging veterans Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Tracy McGrady all far beyond their prime, the Bulls should be able to prey on the lowly Pistons squad.
April 2 vs. Toronto
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Chicago squares off against another Eastern Conference bottom feeder in the second game of the back-to-back games, facing a Toronto Raptors squad with only 20 wins on the season.
The Bulls are 2-1 against the Raptors, who have lost five straight games. Reserve center Omer Asik racked up 13 points, seven rebounds and a career-high five blocks, and Taj Gibson added 16 points and 14 points in the 20-point victory in the previous meeting.
April 5 vs. Phoenix
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The Bulls follow up the back-to-back games with the Phoenix Suns, who are currently 36-38 on the season and games away from being eliminated from playoff contention.
By the time the Bulls reach the Suns on the schedule, coach Alvin Gentry may have already made the decision to limit veterans Steve Nash and Grant Hill, both among the oldest players in the league. Chicago took the "W" in the only meeting between the two teams, with Derrick Rose scoring 35 in a come-from-behind victory.
April 7 vs. Boston
Arguably the toughest game remaining on the schedule, the Boston Celtics lead the season series 2-1 and trail the Bulls by only 2.5 games for the Eastern Conference lead.
Every Bulls fan remembers the 2008-09 season that featured seven overtimes in seven games, and this could be a key matchup in determining the No. 1 seed in the East.
However, the Celtics are struggling late in the season and have dropped three of four heading into a Thursday contest against the Spurs.
With a core of veterans, the C's are prone to breaking down late in the season, and injuries to the O'Neal's and Rajon Rondo have put added pressure on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to drag this team to the finish line.
There's a lot of interesting storylines to follow, including Tom Thibodeau and Brian Scalabrine against their former team, the intense matchup between Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett and the race for the No. 1 seed.
April 8 at Cleveland
Though the Cavaliers got a taste of revenge against Lebron James and the Heat earlier in the week, Cleveland has very little to be happy about.
At 15-59, the Cavs have the worst record in the NBA, despite owner Dan Gilbert declaring that the team would win a championship before James and the Heat.
With a starting lineup that would be on the bench on nearly any other team in the league, the Cavs have struggled against the Bulls this season, dropping all three contests.
Cleveland lost 26 straight games earlier in the season, setting the NBA record for consecutive defeats and putting a damper on a year already marked by extreme disappointment. With forward Antawn Jamison out for the season, this has the makings of a blowout for the surging Chicago squad.
April 10 at Orlando
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Aside from Boston, Chicago's only game against a team over .500 comes against the Orlando Magic.
At 47-28, the Magic are virtually locked into the No. 4 seed in the East at five games back off the Celtics and Heat. Orlando has lost two straight, and is 1-2 against the Bulls this season.
The game will feature a battle between two MVP candidates in Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard. The Magic center is averaging 23.1 points and 14.2 rebounds and has carried the team without much support behind him.
April 12 at New York
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The new-look Knicks are finding their groove late in the season and have won two straight wins behind strong performances from Carmelo Anthony.
The former Nuggets star has combined with Amar'e Stoudemire to help rejuvenate Madison Square Garden. New York has had Chicago's number this year, taking both contests earlier in the season. Both victories came without the new additions, so this could be another tough matchup for the Bulls.
However, the Garden provides a prime stage for a Derrick Rose MVP performance in one of the most storied buildings in NBA history.
April 13 vs. New Jersey
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Chicago returns home for the final game of the regular season against the New Jersey Nets. After landing Deron Williams from Utah and a move to Brooklyn eminent, morale is high for the Nets' future.
However, this season is not part of that optimism. At 23-51, the Nets have struggled to find consistency all year, and despite Williams' attempt to play through a wrist injury, the star point guard is a prime candidate to be shutdown for the remainder of the season.
New Jersey has lost four straight and is 1-2 on the season against Chicago.