East is just bad enough to make Bulls playoff-bound

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The Bulls don’t lack confidence when it comes to making the playoffs.

Not only do they believe they’ll reach the postseason, they believe they deserve to be there.

“We know we belong there,” center Robin Lopez said.

That’s boastful talk from a team with a 35-39 record that’s outside the playoff picture.

But they might be on to something.

The Bulls woke up Monday just a half-game behind the Heat for the eighth playoff spot. But they were also only 2½ games behind the Hawks, Bucks and Pacers for the fifth, sixth and seventh spots, respectively.

Welcome to the Eastern Conference, where bum teams are alive and well.

“I think we know that we’re a good ballclub,” Lopez said. “When we’re playing the right way and doing what we do best, we’ve beaten some of the best teams in the league. I don’t think there’s any game we think we can’t win.”

Looking at the rest of the schedule, Lopez should feel that way.

On paper, the toughest obstacle left is the Cavaliers on Thursday at the United Center. But the Bulls have manhandled the NBA champs since last season, and another victory would give them a season sweep.

The one team that has given the Bulls the most difficulty this season is the Hawks. The Bulls will look to avoid a season sweep when they host the Hawks on Saturday.

After those two games, let’s just say the schedule sets up very nicely.

The Bulls go on a four-game trip to New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Of those four teams, only the Pelicans have more than 30 wins (31). The Bulls finish with home games against the Magic and Nets.

Tailor-made, right? But there’s always a rub with this team.

“I’m not overlooking any teams,” Jimmy Butler said, adding some realization into the conversation. “All I’m saying is when you look at it, we are supposed to win those. Not saying we will, but if we go out and play the game like people see us playing when we’re going right, then the question is, ‘All right, can you all play like that every night?’

“If we play like that, then we can win these games. Not overlooking anybody by a long shot, though, because I also know how we can show up some nights.”

Such as two losses to the Knicks, a bad home loss to the 76ers last Friday and a loss March 8 in Orlando.

That’s why Butler is still guarded about those so-called “easy games.’’ If there’s one thing this group has become very good at, it’s underachieving at the worst moments.

But it’s not just about the Bulls. They can be average and still back in because of the awfulness of the East.

The Heat have the Nuggets, Raptors, Cavs and two games against the Wizards. The Pacers have trips to Memphis, Toronto and Cleveland, as well as games against the Bucks and Hawks. The Bucks have the Celtics twice, the Thunder and a trip to Indiana.

In the East, it isn’t important to be playing your best basketball of the season in April. Just don’t play your worst.

“I know how bad I want this,” Butler said of the playoff push. “My job is to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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