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Thursday, June 30

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« Byrd is the Word for the Cubs March Madness at the United Center »

Bulls Wed Mar 16 2011

Green is Golden for First-Place Bulls

green bulls.PNG

Ronnie Brewer passes around JaVale McGee to Omer Asik / Tribune photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo

Looking better in green than their Boston brethren with snazzy St. Patrick's Day uniforms, the Chicago Bulls took sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference last night by beating the visiting Wizards. Playing without Joakim Noah (illness) and Carlos Boozer (ankle), the Bulls relied on 23 points from Derrick Rose, 20 from Luol Deng and 17 from Keith Bogans to reach seven wins in a row for the second time this season.

They're now half a game ahead of the Celtics and 2.5 games ahead of Miami in the race for the East No. 1 seed, which carries with it the opportunity to avoid the other two contenders until at least the conference finals.

Boston still has 17 games to play, Chicago only 16, but the two teams face each other in the United Center on Thursday, April 7. Miami has even fewer chances to make up ground, with only 15 regular-season games left.

But best of all for the Bulls, they have the easiest slate of opponents remaining. Let's go to the tape!

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for chicagobulls.pngChicago: 16 games
Opponents' winning percentage: .425 (451-609)
7 games against teams over .500
7 home games (Chicago is 30-4 at home)
9 road games (18-14 on the road)
Notable matchups: @Atlanta, Boston, @Orlando, @New York

There's no hiding the fact that Chicago is surging right now, and the next three games against New Jersey (22-43), Indiana (29-38) and Sacramento (16-49) give them a great shot at extending the win streak to 10 games. Both Boston and Miami have tougher games heading into the remainder of this week, and while I would never expect a team like Boston to give up, there's a great chance for Chicago to build a commanding lead with these next three games.

celtics logo.pngBoston: 17 games
Opponents' winning percentage: .490 (557-579)
9 games against teams over .500
7 home games (Boston is 28-6 at home)
10 road games (19-12 on the road)
Notable matchups: @San Antonio, @Chicago, @Miami

Boston road games against Houston (34-34), New Orleans (39-30) and New York (34-32). Beyond that, they'll again have to travel to San Antonio, hoping that Gregg Popovich has brought his team down to idle with first place in the West possibly sewn up by then. Finally, if it's not settled yet, the April 7 game against Chicago could very well end up being the deciding factor, leading to a playoff atmosphere that will certainly take a lot out of both teams. Can the old legs of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen carry them through? We'll see.

heat logo.gifMiami: 15 games
Opponents' winning percentage: .440 (438-557)
6 games against teams over .500
7 home games (Miami is 25-9 at home)
8 road games (21-12 on the road)
Notable matchups: Oklahoma City, @Cleveland, Boston

Miami has woken up in a big way, but their next three games are brutal, as they face Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Denver. They could eating serious dust by then, especially with the comparatively light schedules of Boston and Chicago. Or, considering their recent wins against the Lakers and Spurs, they could be neck and neck for first place. At this point in time, I wouldn't make a bet on either side of the line. Compared to the other two teams, Miami has also been a lot more successful on the road this year, so their eight games away might not be as big a detriment to them as the nine are to the Bulls.

The biggest thing to take away is the Bulls clearly control their own fate. But we all know 16 games is more than enough to allow for ebbs and flows, regardless of how easy your schedule is.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out for the Heat. Boston is good, but I feel like I've got a good idea of what to expect from them game in and game out. Miami, on the other hand, looks absolutely unstoppable when they click and absolutely horrendous when they don't. I just haven't figured out how to tell ahead of time what kind of night it'll be for them. Frankly, I'm not sure they have either. But if they do, it'll be a three-horse race until the end.

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