The Chicago Bulls could have been that contender.
The team with the size and depth to disrupt the Cleveland Cavaliers’ expected cakewalk through the Eastern Conference to the NBA Finals.
Now, the Bulls might miss the playoffs in a season full of injuries and adjustments under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
Entering Saturday, Chicago was 36-35, ninth in the Eastern Conference and out of the playoff field, after losing back-to-back games to the woeful New York Knicks. Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons have surged into eighth place in the East, and the Washington Wizards are trying to sneak into the playoffs.
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Everybody’s in the NBA for a reason, but we’re playing against teams that are not playing for anything, and we’re just laying down. It feels like now we’re a target. It feels like teams are not taking us serious.
The Bulls’ Taj Gibson
Hoiberg had reason for optimism early last week. Pau Gasol was back from a sore knee, and the Bulls dispatched the Kings at United Center.
But that optimism was guarded. While players were returning to the lineup, Hoiberg imposed restrictions on minutes, and Gasol missed the second game of the week against the Knicks because of his knee.
Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Nikola Mirotic, Mike Dunleavy and E’Twaun Moore have missed time because of injuries, and Joakim Noah has been out since January after shoulder surgery.
While aiming for the playoffs, Hoiberg said the Bulls will not use players returning from injuries more than planned.
“It won’t affect anything,” Hoiberg said. “We want to make sure we have these guys protected for the long haul. If we’re fortunate enough to get in (the postseason), we want to have these guys ready to play.”
If the Bulls advance, they likely will face Cleveland in the first round and not in the conference finals, as some might have predicted. But that’s a big if, considering how Chicago has played. Once known for their tough defense, the Bulls are not nearly as intimidating at that end of the floor.
After the last loss to the Knicks, Taj Gibson told reporters he was “embarrassed” that the Bulls continue to lose to “trash” teams.
“Everybody’s in the NBA for a reason, but we’re playing against teams that are not playing for anything, and we’re just laying down,” Gibson said. “It feels like now we’re a target. It feels like teams are not taking us serious.”
And no one seriously believes the Bulls could stop Cleveland in the postseason, if they get that far.
The Houston Rockets have been one of the NBA’s bigger disappointments.
But just when the Rockets appeared to be out of the playoff picture, their star player, James Harden,, elevated his game. He is averaging 28.6 points, 9.8 assists and 6.5 rebounds in March.
Houston needs Harden at his best to make the playoffs. He is averaging 30.9 points in wins and 26.2 points in losses.
For whatever reason, LeBron James unfollowed his team, the Cavaliers, on Twitter, creating an uproar.
Cleveland fans, who follow James’ every move, wonder if it’s a sign he plans to take his talents elsewhere – again.
With every account James unfollows, should Cleveland be scared? He must know this tortures the fans but seemingly doesn’t care.
28.6 March scoring average of the Rockets’ James Harden
“I feel like we're ready to make a championship run. I’m confident in this team and I know we can make a championship run, and that’s all you can ask for.”
James to reporters Saturday morning