Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Toronto and Chicago Fight to the Finish

The Toronto Raptors lead the Chicago Bulls for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs by just one game with 6 games remaining. Toronto sits at 38-38; Chicago, at 37-39.
Were the two teams to end up tied after 82 games, Toronto would prevail, having already clinched the head-to-head season series against Chicago, by winning on November 11th and December 5th. The two teams will play each other again in Chicago on April 11th.

Toronto's remaining schedule is: Cavs, Celtics, Hawks, Bulls, Pistons, Knicks.
Chicago's remaining schedule is: Bucks, Cavs, Nets, Raptors, Celtics, Bobcats.

Both teams will play Cleveland, which may not try very hard in remaining games, given that they have virtually clinched the top Eastern seed. Both teams will also play the Celtics, who are fighting against Atlanta (and perhaps Miami, charging hard from the #5 position) for playoff positioning.
Atlanta, also jockeying for their playoff spot, will be a tough matchup for Toronto; the Pistons and Knicks, each suffering through a lost season, will be easy. The Bobcats, if they are still fighting for playoff rank on the last day, could be a tough matchup for Chicago, while the Milwaukee Bucks (sans Andrew Bogut) and New Jersey Nets will be easy.

Who will make the playoffs, Chicago or Toronto? Given the symmetry of remaining opponents, and Toronto's existing lead, I would bet on Toronto. However, a few factors militate in Chicago's favor.

First, although Toronto has home court for the April 11th tussle, Toronto's home record is only 24-14, hardly juggernautic. Having attended multiple NBA games in both Toronto and Chicago, I believe that the Air Canada Centre fans treat a Raps experience as more of a carnival, while Bulls fans are ready to see blood drawn. (Let us recall that Illinois legalized mixed martial arts a couple years ago, while we learned last month that Ontarians are apparently too squeamish for the UFC.)

Chicago's Joakim Noah has recovered from his plantar fascitis issues that dogged him last month; he has averaged 11 points and 11 boards in his last three games. Noah's absence from February 27th – March 19th coincided precisely with a 10-game losing streak by the Bulls. Since his return, they have won 6 of 8. With the NCAA Final Four recently concluded, we should note that Noah has twice proved himself the best player on a championship team.

Meanwhile, Toronto does not have any significant injury issues, yet they still lost 9 of 10 around the same time the Bulls similarly floundered. A team scrapping for the playoffs should not lose a nail-biter to Golden State. They simply are not confident right now, particularly with the uncertainty over Chris Bosh's future plans.

In short, I pick the Bulls to make the playoffs. If the Bulls finish the remaining six games by winning at least two more than Toronto (e.g. if the Bulls finish 4-2 and the Raptors finish 2-4) then those Hogtowners will be goin' fishing just eight days from now.

Frankly, I think Toronto should not try to make the playoffs, in any event. The gate revenue might loom as shiny lucre, but I don't believe the Raptors' ultimate owner, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, has any liquidity problems. They would be better-served to invest in the Raps' long-term success. Sadly, the Raptors squad as presently constituted probably cannot get much better; it seems foolhardy to expect Demar Derozan or Andrea Bargnani to progress much beyond their present level. Chris Bosh will likely leave this summer as a free agent, and then the Raptors would behoove themselves to quickly trade overpaid non-contributors such as Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon and thus clear salary room for a rebuilding project. Thus, there is little value in trying to attain playoff experience for the current squad, as their institutional memory will be quickly dissolved. Even if Toronto could make the playoffs, Cleveland would wax them, much like they swept through Detroit in 2009.

It is sad that Toronto's two cracks at contendership since the franchise began in 1995 (once with Vince Carter and then again with Chris Bosh) have both failed. This is what happens when you attempt to build a team around a sub-MVP-level player with no other All-Star to complement him.
UPDATE: After I posted that, Chris Bosh of Toronto suffered an injury to his nose on Tuesday night, April 6th. Hopefully it will not be serious.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Toronto has home court advantage on Sunday - so you'll have to review those stats.

Interesting that you equate Toronto fans to 'carnival-goers' - I guess Canucks know how to have fun! :)

Anant said...

I would wager that Bulls fans like to see "blood drawn" because of the area the United center is located. That's a common occurance there, so no surprise. Let's go RAPTORS!

As for the UFC, why bring in all the roughnecks for UFC, when we can take a trip to Montreal and make a real event out of it??

Bhel Atlantic said...

Oops, I made a terrible error in writing that Chicago has home court for the April 11th game. I don't know why I wrote that. I have corrected the text accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I love Anant - he's so passionate ;)