With seven games left in the 2010-11 season, the Chicago Bulls find themselves in a position few around the NBA thought possible back in November. If the Bulls can win their next three games at home, where they are a league-best 32-5, all they will need is a victory next Friday against the basement-dwelling Cavaliers to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference for the first time since Michael Jordan roamed the hallways of the United Center.
As if things hadn't gone well enough for the Bulls this season, the Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs have lost six straight games, making it possible for Chicago to end the regular season with the best record in the NBA and clinching home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
If you had tried to tell me that would happen before the season began, well, let's just say I'd be feeling guilty for the padded room I had you put in.
But prohibitive MVP favorite Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and the rest of Tom Thibodeau's Bulls have authored, to this point, the story of the season in the NBA.
The countdown to the one seed begins tonight against the Toronto Raptors, who you might remember torched the Bulls for 118 points in the first game after James Johnson was traded between the teams. It was an uncharacteristically poor night on the defensive end for the Bulls, allowing the second highest point total of their season on the first night of having their entire roster intact.
Joakim Noah, once again, will be a gametime decision with a sprained ankle suffered in Monday's loss at Philadelphia. The Bulls will need Noah completely healthy for the playoffs and as Boozer has played so well in his absence, the Bulls don't need to hurry Noah back into action. Ultimately the Bulls need to find floor time for Noah and Boozer to play together, as they still haven't found a rhythm due to alternating injuries throughout the season, but Chicago's first priority is to have everyone healthy after 82 games.
The Raptors are going through one of their roughest patches of the season, losing five straight games. Toronto has only won four games since beating the Bulls on February 23rd.
Raptors To Watch For
Raptors point guard Jose Calderon strained a hamstring in Wednesday's loss to Milwaukee and will not travel to Chicago, promoting reserve Jerryd Bayless to the starting lineup. Bayless has yet to find a home in the NBA in his young career, bouncing from Portland to New Orleans to Toronto in the span of three years. A talented scorer, Bayless has struggled with his decision-making and is abnormally foul-prone for his position. Demar DeRozen has continued to improve as an athletic slasher, more than doubling his scoring average from his rookie season. Former number one overall pick Andrea Bargnani is making his second start since returning from an ankle injury. A talented scorer at seven feet tall, if he were any worse at rebounding he might be declared allergic.
Bulls To Watch For
Derrick Rose, winner of the Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for March, has been on fire his last four games, averaging 27.8 points and 9.8 assists. Boozer has strung together his two best games in more than a month, averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds, further fueling the argument that Boozer will always play better when Noah is not on the floor.
Amazing as the Bulls run has been and exciting as it may be to look ahead to playoff seedings and matchup, Chicago must first handle its business in the final homestand of the year, beginning tonight against the Raptors. Tip-off is at 7:00 p.m. CDT on WGN.
Follow Zachary Lee on Twitter @rightfieldsucks