Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
VIDEO: Jazz outlast Rockets, push Houston to No. 9 in West
> More likely to miss the playoffs this season: The 29-26 Bulls or the 28-29 Rockets?
David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Houston. Just don’t like the vibe from that squad, which can Kumbaya all it wants — there are issues in that locker room that have nothing to do with Xs and Os. And, I’m not sure Detroit or Washington can put together a run for long enough to surpass the Bulls, while I see Utah being more than capable of finishing the season with a flourish — especially with Shelvin Mack looking like he’s going to solidify the Jazz at the point for the stretch drive.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Forced to pick between disappointments, I’m going with the team that is committed to its current coaching staff. Fred Hoiberg and his bosses understand the embarrassment they’ll face if they miss the playoffs, having dumped Tom Thibodeau and his sixth-best winning percentage of all time (.647) among coaches who’ve worked at least 300 games. Management turned Thibodeau into a lame duck last season and suffered consequences that still linger. But there are signs Chicago is starting to click, if it can hang in long enough for Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic to return from injuries. Houston clearly gained little from its impulsive firing of Kevin McHale and is likely to dump interim J.B. Bickerstaff before next season too. The Rockets’ dysfunction runs deeper and, unless they have a bunch of games left against Phoenix, they’ll be done at 82.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Call it a cop-out, but I’m saying neither. But if you make me pick, I’d say the Bulls are more likely to miss out. The Rockets have to beat out only one of either the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, both of whom are playing close to their limit. And they might even have a shot at the struggling Mavs coming down the stretch. Over in the East, this seems to be a lost season for the Wizards and the Magic are again headed toward disappointment. That keeps the door open for the Bulls. But I think Stan Van Gundy is doing everything he can to drive the Detroit Pistons into the playoffs. The question mark that puts the Bulls in danger is when Jimmy Butler returns to the lineup.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Rockets. Chicago expects to get Jimmy Butler back, maybe within a few weeks, and Nikola Mirotic as well. No one who can play at an MVP level when healthy is walking through that door in Houston. I’m not crossing the Rockets off the list because that’s not exactly an overwhelming group of playoff hopefuls around the cutline in the West. But the Bulls’ roster could get significantly better.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This is something of a coin flip, but my gut says the Bulls are more likely to miss the playoffs. Yes, I realize Jimmy Butler will return at some point, but Chicago is being chased by Detroit and Washington for the final spot at the moment, and both teams — while flawed — are capable of finishing strong. Meanwhile, the Rockets are dealing with only the Jazz. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago and Houston sit this one out.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Rockets. First of all, they’re out of the playoffs right now, while the Bulls have a three-game cushion in the loss column. Secondly, the Rockets’ record is a little inflated (they have the point differential of a 25-32 team), because they’ve been good in close games (though the Bulls’ record is similarly inflated). And finally, they have a tough schedule relative to the teams they’re fighting with, playing 17 of their final 25 games against teams that are currently at or above .500.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Both teams are stuck in their current predicaments due to their own mistakes as well as some unfortunate injury issues. That said, I can see the Bulls sinking in the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff quicksand. The Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks are all capable of walking down a Bulls team that will limp to the finish of this regular season with key players (Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy, etc.) dealing with injuries. The dysfunctional Rockets have a huge challenge ahead of them, but they at least will have their best player to lean on down the stretch.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: As much as I prefer the roster and chemistry of the Bulls, they must deal with a lot more competition in the East than the Rockets are facing in the West, where there are essentially nine teams competing for eight playoff spots. James Harden should be able to drive Houston into the postseason, whereas the Bulls are going to have to fend off the Pistons and Wizards in addition to the higher-ranked teams in their tightly-bunched conference.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Bulls have been through a lot this season, but I think they’re more likely to qualify for the playoffs. The Rockets have been through a coaching change, a few trades, and even a trade that was rescinded. I don’t know this for certain, but it sure seems like there isn’t a lot of confidence right now in that Rockets locker room. I think the Bulls make it.