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Bulls Fri Apr 18 2014
The Eastern Conference was host to a lot of tanking this season -- mainly racing to see who could get the most ping pong ball combinations on draft lottery night. But in the last few days of the season, playoff bound teams started losing like crazy too.
With a shot at the East's top seed still within their grasp, the Heat decided LeBron James and Chris Bosh should "rest" in their penultimate game, ceding home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference to the Indiana Pacers (who are 35-6 at home and just 21-20 on the road). By sliding to the two spot, the Heat avoided a possible date with the Bulls until the conference finals.
Not to be outdone, the Brooklyn Nets were lining up perfectly for a first round slugfest with the Bulls with a week left to go in the season. Then came a "stunning" collapse in the final five games. Losses to Orlando, Atlanta, New York (without Carmelo) and Cleveland dropped Jason Kidd's team to the six seed, and a first round date with Toronto instead.
All this to avoid the lowest scoring team in the NBA. A squad that lost Derrick Rose to a torn up knee early in the season, and in a desperate attempt to not pay the luxury tax (that might backfire), traded away All Star Luol Deng in a pure cash grab.
Teams know the NBA playoffs mean games that grind down to a speed seen nightly in the early '90s, and since Tom Thibodeau's Bulls play that kind of basketball every time they step on the floor, they're infinitely more prepared to handle the rigors of low possession games.
Not only are the Bulls better equipped to handle playoff basketball than most teams, but they try so stinking hard on every possession that it can simply frustrate opponents. They never go away, never stop working, never stop rotating, challenging shooters, or securing rebounds on both ends. The Bulls' calling card is to outwork you, and that can be a problem for a team looking to do further damage even if they survive a seventh game in Chicago.
And if you ask the Bulls, the seeding couldn't have worked out more perfectly. The benefit of other (smart) teams looking to dodge you is that it works both ways. Are the Bulls guaranteed to beat the up-and-coming Wizards in round one? Of course not. But out of all the teams they could've potentially faced, wouldn't you want to face the team loaded with inexperienced players? The NBA is a learn-as-you-go league when it comes to playoffs (for the most part), and teams that haven't been to the playoffs in awhile typically don't fare well.
A possible date with the struggling Pacers in the second round was another perfect storm. Everyone on the Bulls is convinced they can beat their local rivals, and with the way Frank Vogel's team played down the stretch, it's hard to beat back any of that confidence.
The main goal for an Eastern Conference team is to dodge the Heat until you have to play them, and they were nice enough to do that for the Bulls. They might not have been blatantly losing games at the end, but anytime you can let other teams try to knock out the hardest working team in the league, or at the very least delay your meeting with them, it's a smart move.
The Bulls should win their first series, but it's no guarantee. They have a chance to beat the Pacers in the second round if they should meet, but they won't be anywhere close to a favorite. And if they happen to meet the Heat in the Conference Finals, Noah's boys will be lucky to win one game.
Those kind of odds sound exactly like a fourth seeded team. And that's exactly what the Bulls are, no better or worse. It's just funny that other teams were tripping over themselves in an effort to dodge or delay a date with the lowest scoring team in professional basketball.