As of January 21st, 2022, the Chicago Bulls sit in a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat. BetMGM Illinois lists the Bulls with the fourth-best odds at +900 to make it out of the Eastern Conference.
The Brooklyn Nets (+135), Milwaukee Bucks (+300), and Heat (+550) all have better odds than the Bulls.
End Of Regular Season And Playoff Preview
With less than 40 games left in the season, the Bulls have an advantageous remaining strength of schedule (SOS). Chicago has the ninth most favorable remaining strength of schedule with a .496 SOS. Other Eastern Conference contenders like the Nets, Bucks, Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers have a more favorable remaining SOS, but the Bulls should still finish the regular season with a top seed.
Chicago has about an even split of home and road games left on the schedule. They will not have an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to the court they play on. Through 39 games, the Bulls have a 16-6 record at home and a 12-9 record on the road. The Bulls have one of the best home records in the Eastern Conference, so finishing with the number one seed would help out tremendously in the playoffs.
Lonzo Ball Injury And The Return Of Zach LaVine
Chicago ruled out Lonzo Ball for the January 15 game against the Boston Celtics. After missing two more games, Ball elected to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The surgery will keep Ball out of action for six to eight weeks. That timetable would line Ball up to return towards the end of the regular season if he has no setbacks with his surgery or rehab.
In the meantime, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic will look to lead the team in Ball’s absence. DeRozan currently averages 25.7 points per game and 4.9 assists per game. In the latest NBA All-Star Game fan voting results, DeRozan has the most votes for a guard in the Eastern Conference and the third most total votes in the East. Through the 2021-22 season, DeRozan has a career-high 34.7% three-point shooting percentage.
The Bulls do have reinforcements on the way to make up for Ball’s injury. Alex Caruso has already returned to the lineup, and Zach LaVine may return to the court by the end of January. Through 38 games this season, LaVine has averaged 24.9 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, and 4.2 assists per game. He also has a 41.2% three-point percentage with 7.2 three-pointers attempted per game. The return of LaVine will certainly lessen the blow of the loss of Ball.
Chicago has a great chance to make it out of the East with injured players returning and with DeRozan playing at an All-Star level. The Bulls should maintain a top spot in the Eastern Conference standings when LaVine returns to the lineup. With a lineup of LaVine, DeRozan, Ball, and Vucevic, the Bulls have a great chance to make it out of the East.
Matchups Against Playoff Teams
With less than 40 games left in the season, the Bulls have some high-profile games left on the schedule. Chicago has two games against the Western Conference-leading Phoenix Suns. They will host the Suns on February 7 and then travel to Phoenix on March 18.
When looking at their Eastern Conference opponents, the Bulls have two more games against the Heat. They have lost both of their previous matchups this season, so their two remaining games could play a pivotal in their chances at making the NBA Finals. With both teams tied for first in the Eastern Conference, this could be an early preview for the Eastern Conference Finals.
Chicago has no more games left against the Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls won the season series two games to one. Kyrie Irving has returned to the lineup for the Nets, but he can only play in away games to due New York’s COVID-19 guidelines. Kevin Durant will also miss over a month with a meniscus injury. In a playoff series, Irving will only play in games in Chicago, so the Bulls may actually receive an advantage when traveling to Brooklyn.
The Bulls match up well with every team in the East and will have a great shot at making the NBA Finals with a fully healthy lineup.
Featured Image: NBC Chicago