With eight games left, Bulls’ toughest opponent is themselves
As of Sunday morning, the Bulls looked to be locked in at the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Trying to guess their first-round opponent, however, is way too difficult. Either way, Alex Caruso and company would rather keep their focus in their own locker room.
NEW YORK — Looking ahead to the Bulls’ potential playoff opponent is an exercise in futility.
As of Sunday morning, the Bulls woke up still firmly in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, looking up at four teams that will spend the remaining few weeks of the regular season playing musical chairs.
First there’s the 76ers, who have arguably the league MVP in Joel Embiid and have pummeled the Bulls in their four meetings this season. They won by an average of 10 points, with each game getting considerably more one-sided. In the first meeting in November, the 76ers won by five. In the last meeting March 7, they won by 15.
How about a first-round showdown with Jimmy Butler and the Heat? After all, the Heat’s culture looks more like a family reunion gone bad. They have lost four in a row and are feuding like they’re on the “Jerry Springer Show.” The problem is the Heat have taken the first three meetings with the Bulls, beating them by an average of 14 points with one game left.
Can the Bulls handle the Bucks? Not really. Three meetings, three losses. The last one was less than a week ago, and it was a 28-point laugher for the defending champions.
That leaves the Celtics, the only one of the top four teams in the East the Bulls have beaten this season.
The best approach the Bulls can take in their final eight games is to worry about themselves. After the season finale April 10 at Minnesota, just look at the standings and take out the game film.
“The focus is us,” guard Alex Caruso said when asked about looking at possible playoff matchups. “When we get there, we’ll get there.
“Where we’re at right now, I don’t think you can worry about matchups. If we worry about us everything will take care of itself.”
That was the attitude last week, when the Bulls had significant wins over the Raptors and Cavaliers. Those teams were breathing down their neck in the standings, and Caruso hopes he and his teammates can make those performances sustainable.
“We’ve been talking about that for three weeks,” Caruso said of the Bulls’ inconsistency. “There’s not much I can say to tell you about what I have to tell guys on what we have to do. It’s about showing up and putting the work in. If we show up and play like we’re supposed to play, we’ll win a lot of games going into the playoffs and be where we need to be. There’s really not many words I can say. Just go out and do it.”
That mentality is shared around the Bulls’ locker room.
With little time left, though, big man Nikola Vucevic admitted that it might be difficult for the Bulls to get out of the fifth spot, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a quick out.
“I think we have to use these last eight games to work on things we haven’t been doing well, build up our confidence going into the playoffs,” Vucevic said. “That’s going to be very important.
“Some matchups are better than others, but I think we have the talent to play with everybody. It’s just are we willing to do the right things night in and night out? That’s the main thing for us. When we do those things, we’re a really good team, and when we don’t, we’re not. It’s as simple as that.’’