First round still cloudy for Bulls, but here are likely scenarios

Top-seeded Miami is still a possibility, but it’s not very realistic. Milwaukee, Boston and Philadelphia are, and here’s how the Bulls fared against them as well as how they could win a series.

SHARE First round still cloudy for Bulls, but here are likely scenarios
Coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls still have several potential playoff scenarios to plan for.

Coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls still have several potential playoff scenarios to plan for.

Paul Beaty/AP

Guard Alex Caruso let the media know Monday that his back tightness was still an issue, but he planned to play Tuesday against the Bucks.

That’s good news for the Bulls because with only four regular-season games left and so much uncertainty surrounding the team’s playoff seeding, it’s all hands on deck.

With every team idle in deference to the NCAA championship game and a complete meltdown from the Heat unlikely, here are the three most logical matchups for the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs going into the last week of the regular season:

Philadelphia 76ers

Games left: four (at Indiana, at Toronto, Indiana, Detroit).

Where they stand: The 76ers are the team that currently is matched up with the Bulls in the first round (No. 4 vs. No. 5). Philadelphia, however, also has the easiest schedule left in the Eastern Conference, so its seeding could change.

How it went: Philadelphia swept four games from the Bulls, beating them by an average of 10 points. The closest game was the first meeting in Philly in which the Bulls lost by five.

Concerns for the Bulls: MVP candidate Joel Embiid has owned the Bulls throughout his career; he has never lost to them in 11 meetings. This season, he averaged 32.8 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks and shot 52.9% from the field, including 47.1% from three-point range. The addition of Tristan Thompson was supposed to provide the Bulls with another body to throw at Embiid, but he scored 43 against Thompson in March and always has dominated him.

How the Bulls can win: James Harden has a history of disappearing in the playoffs, but the Bulls still won’t have an answer for Embiid. The other issue is Nikola Vucevic’s offense stagnates against Embiid. Vucevic missed one of the games and only shot 36.6% from the field. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine scored well in the four meetings but need help. Vucevic would have to make Embiid work on the defensive end for any chance.

Milwaukee Bucks

Games left: four (at Bulls, Boston, at Detroit, at Cleveland).

Where they stand: The Bucks own the tiebreaker with the 76ers, but they could face the Bulls in the first round based on the remaining schedule.

How it went: The Bulls were competitive in two of the first three meetings and have another crack at the defending champions Tuesday at the United Center.

Concerns for the Bulls: The last meeting in Milwaukee was full of problems for the Bulls. DeRozan and LaVine were each held to 21 points in the blowout. Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday is a lockdown defender who can make life hard for either All-Star. Oh, yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds in the three games.

How the Bulls can win: Forget about trying to stop Antetokounmpo. The Bulls don’t have the personnel to do that. It’s about letting him get his, keeping him off the offensive glass and trying to slow down everyone else. Holiday has given the Bulls issues in all three games, so Caruso has to slow him down. The Bulls also have to make sure Khris Middleton doesn’t get cooking.

Boston Celtics

Games left: three (at Bulls, at Milwaukee, at Memphis).

Where they stand: The Celtics were holding down the No. 2 seed by a half-game but also have the most difficult schedule of the Bulls’ three potential opponents..

How it went: The Bulls and Celtics split the first two games, and the rubber match is Wednesday. The Bulls stunned the Celtics in Boston on Nov. 1, coming back from a 19-point deficit in the second half to win by 14. The second meeting was a two-point Celtics victory, but LaVine did not play.

Concerns for the Bulls: No team in the East has been better than Boston since the All-Star break, especially defensively. The Celtics were a different team in the first two meetings; coach Ime Udoka seemed to be figuring out his personnel and how to best employ it.

How the Bulls can win: Robert Williams III’s knee injury was a huge blow for the Celtics on both ends of the floor, but they still have a physical presence in the middle with Al Horford and Daniel Theis. The Bulls do have an edge in experience. DeRozan has been to a conference finals, and Caruso has won it all. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had a tendency early in the season to live and die from three-point range, so the Bulls can always hope the duo reverts to that mentality.

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