The Chicago Bulls' season has bordered on a disaster, with the Rajon Rondo blowup, the midseason roster shakeup and the Dwyane Wade injury in addition to five months of frustratingly uneven play and calls for Fred Hoiberg to be fired.
But basketball can be kind of crazy, and after somehow securing a season sweep of the defending champion Cavaliers with a 99-93 win Thursday night (on TNT, of course), the Bulls suddenly have a strong shot at the No. 7 or 8 seed.
How can that be? Well, at 36-39 they were a half-game back of Miami and Indiana for the final two playoff spots entering play Saturday, and both of those teams have a harder remaining schedule: Miami's last four are at Toronto and Washington, then home vs. the Cavs and Wizards; Indiana plays at Cleveland and hosts the Raptors, Bucks and Hawks.
The Bulls, meanwhile, face only one team with a winning record in their final seven games. Here's a look at Chicago's easy path to the playoffs:
Vs. Atlanta Hawks, Sat., April 1
UPDATE: Bulls win 106-104 to pull into a three-way tie with Miami and Indiana for seventh in the East.
The Hawks (39-36) are the last team with a winning record that the Bulls will face in the regular season. Atlanta has had Chicago's number, winning the first three matchups, but the Hawks have been limping to the finish line, losing seven of their past 10 games.
Butler's had games of 40 and 39 against Atlanta this season, and one more big performance could be the charm.
@ Pelicans, Sun., April 2
Heading down to New Orleans won't be an easy back-to-back, especially now that the Pels have DeMarcus Cousins, making them a bigger threat than the team the Bulls beat back in January. Anthony Davis went off for 36 and 14 in that one, and Boogie gives them a 1-2 punch that the Bulls don't have with Wade out. But the Pels haven't made a playoff push since acquiring Cousins, proving to be a bit of a disappointment.
@ Knicks, Tues., April 4
How about one more round of Derrick Rose vs. his old team? There won't be much more motivation for the Knicks, who are 3-7 in their past 10 but 2-0 against the Bulls this season, with one win coming while Butler was sidelined. Rose hasn't exactly lit it up, averaging 16 points and seven assists.
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@ 76ers, Thurs., April 6
The Bulls blew a home game against the Sixers earlier this week after winning their first two matchups, so they'll have to atone for the loss with a win in Philly. Butler had 36 in that game but Dario Saric went for 32 and 10, boosting his case for Rookie of the Year. Chicago can't afford another letdown against these guys. The good news for the Bulls is that Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington joined Joel Embiid in being shut down for the season.
@ Nets, Sat., April 8
The Bulls wrap up this crucial four-game trip at Brooklyn, having beaten the Nets twice this season, including a Butler buzzer-beater in a 40-point night back in December.
Vs. Magic, Mon., April 10
The Bulls have won two of three against the Magic, losing at Orlando earlier this month as Elfrid Payton had a triple-double with 22, 14 and 14. The Magic are 3-7 in their past 10 and coming off a couple tough losses, including an OT loss to the Thunder in which they blew a 21-point lead. Ouch.
Vs. Nets, Wed., April 12
One more Lopez brothers battle for good luck. The Nets have the worst record in the NBA, and the Bulls can put a big, shiny bow on it as the finishing touch for that No. 1 draft pick.
So there it is: seven games against teams that the Bulls have a combined 7-7 record against. The Bulls will have to beat these bad teams to give themselves a shot at the postseason. Can they do it? Not much in this season makes you think they can, but then again who thought they'd sweep the Cavs and cause some concern about a possible first-round matchup?