Alex Caruso let the media know on Monday, that while his back tightness was still an issue, the guard planned to play against Milwaukee on Tuesday night.
Good thing, because with just four games left in the regular season and so much uncertainty with what the playoffs will look like for the Bulls, it’s all hands on deck.
With everyone idle for Monday’s NCAA Tournament championship game, and a complete meltdown from Miami very unlikely at this point, here are the three most logical matchups for the Bulls in Round 1 as it stood going into this last week:
Games left: Four (at Indiana, at Toronto, Indiana, Detroit).
Where they stand: Philadelphia is the team that currently matches up with the Bulls in the first-round No. 4 vs. No. 5. The 76ers, however, also have the easiest schedule left in the Eastern Conference, so their seeding could change.
How it went: Philadelphia swept the Bulls in all four meetings in the regular season, beating them by an average of 10 points. The closest game was the first meeting, in which the Bulls lost by five in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
Concerns for the Bulls: MVP candidate Joel Embiid has owned the Bulls throughout his career, never losing in 11 previous meetings. This season alone, he’s averaged 32.8 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, while shooting 52.9% from the field and 47.1% from three. The addition of Tristan Thompson was supposed to help the Bulls have another body to throw at Embiid, but the big man put up 43 against Thompson back in March, and has always dominated him.
The Bulls can win if: James Harden has a history of disappearing in the playoffs, but that still doesn’t give the Bulls any answer for Embiid. The other issue is Nikola Vucevic’s offense obviously goes stagnant against Embiid. Vucevic missed one of the games, but still only shot 36.6% from the field. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine have scored the ball well in the four games, but need help. Vucevic would have to make Embiid work on the defensive end for any chance.
Games left: Four (at Chicago, Boston, at Detroit, at Cleveland).
Where they stand: The Bucks own the tie-breaker with the 76ers. Realistically, however, the first round meeting for the Bulls could be their division rivals from the Central just based on the remaining schedule.
How it went: The Bulls were actually competitive in two of the first three meetings, and still have a crack at the defending champions Tuesday at the United Center.
Concerns for the Bulls: The last meeting in Milwaukee was full of concerns for the Bulls, as DeRozan and LaVine were each held to 21 points in the blowout. Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday is a lockdown defender, able to make life hard for either Bulls All-Star. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 30 and 15 in the three games this season.
The Bulls can win if: Forget trying to stop Antetokounmpo. The Bulls don’t have the personnel to do that. It’s about letting him get his, keep him off the offensive glass, and try and slow down everyone else. Holiday has given the Bulls issues in all three games, so it feels like an Alex Caruso mission to slow him down. They also have to make sure Khris Middleton doesn’t get cooking.
Games left: Three (at Chicago, at Milwaukee, at Memphis).
Where they stand: The Celtics were holding the No. 2 seed down by a half-game, but also have the most difficult schedule left of the three potential Bulls opponents. That included what could be a playoff preview on Wednesday, when Boston comes to the United Center.
How it went: The Bulls and Celtics split the first two games, with the rubber match this week. The Bulls stunned the Celtics in Boston back on Nov. 1, coming back from a 19-point second-half deficit to win by 14. The second meeting was a two-point Celtics win, but Zach LaVine did not play.
Concerns for the Bulls: No team in the East has been better than Boston since the All-Star Game, especially on the defensive end. The Celtics were a completely different team in the first two meetings, with coach Ime Udoka seemingly figuring out his personnel and how to best utilize it.
The Bulls can win if: The Robert Williams III knee injury was huge for Boston on both ends of the floor, but they still have a physical presence in the middle with veteran Al Horfrod and Daniel Theis. Where the Bulls can get Boston, however, is in experience. DeRozan has been to a conference finals, while Caruso has won it all. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown showed an early-season tendency to live and die from three, so the Bulls can always hope the duo reverts back to that mentality.