Bulls Update. How many times will we write off the Chicago Bulls, only to watch them laugh at our misguided pity and disbelief and exceed every expectation, before we learn to stop doing it? The Bulls have faced another season without Derrick Rose, the departure of the reliable Luol Deng, and a pretty bad year from Carlos Boozer, so of course they've put themselves in good position to snag the third seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Granted, this is an easy year to grab a high seed in the East, but Basketball-Reference.com still rates them the 4th-best team in the conference (and above-average overall), behind Miami, Indiana, and Toronto.
Just more of the same from Tom Thibodeau's gutsy squad, who continue to defend at an elite level, even if they can't score much themselves. They defend the floor (2nd if opp. eFG%), they don't foul (4th in opp. FT/FGA), and they generally just make the game miserable for whoever laces up against them. Leading the charge is Joakim Noah, who's playing the best ball of his career (20.1 PER and a star-level .191 WS/48) and has emerged as a sleeper MVP candidate.
And wouldn't you know it, they're on a bit of a roll right now. Chicago has won four straight, 8 of their last 11, and they haven't lost consecutive games since the beginning of February. Since dropping a pair in New Orleans and Sacramento, the Bulls have an efficiency differential of +5.5, thanks to that stifling defense and an offense that has been about average instead of terrible. They've benefited from an easy-ish schedule overall, but this is definitely a team that could put a scare into Miami or Indiana in a second-round playoff matchup.
Breaking Bucks. It has been strange watching the Bucks hang points on opponents with relative ease over the last few months, even as the losses continued piling up. That trend might be coming to an end as Milwaukee completely throws in the towel for the final seven games. The Miami Heat held Milwaukee to a sub-94.0 offensive rating in their last two matchups, and the 115.5 mark the Bucks put against Detroit looks a little less impressive when you consider the Pistons' 112.1 DRtg in the five games leading up to that one.
The Miami losses illustrate just how much work the Bucks have to do in order to compete with the NBA's elite. Miami didn't give the Bucks free points at the line, shut down their ball movement, and blanketed the three-point line. That's a good strategy for any team, and it obliterated the option-less Bucks.
Night night, Knight. Brandon Knight is tired. I mean, you can see it just looking at the guy. His minute totals aren't far off from his previous seasons in Detroit, but he's been asked to do so much more for a team with so much less and it seems to have finally knocked him out. Knight is shooting under 36% from the floor over his past 6 games and hasn't triggered the offense as effectively, relapsing into bad passes and aimless dribbling. Is it something to be worried about? It's hard to fault him for slipping while the team around him implodes, though it is a bit sobering for fans who were really starting to get excited about Knight's future with the team. We shouldn't overreact to a poor stretch on a bad team, but you have to take the bad with the good.
Tankwatch. ALERT. ALERT. TANKCON LEVEL 2. The Philadelphia 76ers take on the Boston Celtics in Boston tonight, where they have already won once. Of course, Philly traded away most of their team between then and now, but anything is possible. Tonight's contest and the final matchup with Boston in Philadelphia on April 14 probably represent the Sixers' best chances at winning yet this season. Even a single victory would likely be enough to seal the top lottery seed for Milwaukee.