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.
> Chicago is on a roll and appears to be making a beeline to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Is this the season the Bulls return to the NBA Finals? If not, tell me who’s gonna stop them?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This is the best Bulls team since Michael Jordan retired for the second time, as far as depth and potential, so there’s no reason – on paper – that it shouldn’t get to The Finals. Cleveland, more than its general meshing, has a problem in Anderson Varejao‘s injury that might not get fixed until the offseason. Toronto, in postseason savvy, is a step behind Washington. And the Wizards, for all the confidence they gained last spring, would have trouble defending against this more-potent Chicago lineup. Atlanta? I respect the Hawks, but one-trick ponies have trouble in seven-game series. So the biggest question for Chicago remains Derrick Rose‘s long-term health and availability. Which means the “who” who might stop the Bulls must be … uh, trainer Jeff Tanaka? (Just kidding, Jeff)
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Jimmy Butler stepping up his game this season, the Bulls have an improved offense and appear to have the pieces. But their defense has lost some of its teeth and Derrick Rose’s continued health still nags. I’m not ready to make Chicago the favorite. Have to like what the Raptors have done with best record in the East even with DeMar DeRozan out. Most efficient offense in the league and no-nonsense bulldog point guard in Kyle Lowry, who won’t go down easy. And let’s not write off the Hawks as just being the same old Hawks.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: They were my pick at the start of the season to come out of the East, and to win the whole thing, so I’m not going to change now. Certainly not with the big jump from Jimmy Butler and the rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Rose’s health history obviously makes it something of a risk pick, and it is tough to push all my chips in with that medical chart, but, yes, the Bulls are the team to beat.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: If they stay healthy, the Bulls have pole position in the East. They’re not a perfect team, but they bring more size, experience, defense and coaching to the playoff table than anyone else. The Raptors and Wizards haven’t done anything yet, the Hawks are a few stars short of going deep into May, and let’s not get started about the Cavaliers. If Jimmy Butler we see now is the Jimmy Butler we’ll see in the spring, then the East is theirs to lose.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The top four teams in the East – Toronto, Atlanta, Washington and Chicago – all have the potential to be a top-10 team on both ends of the floor. Toronto’s depth gives them an edge in the regular season, but Chicago — with its combination of talent (especially on the frontline), system, experience and coaching — is best set up to win in the playoffs. Health and durability through heavy regular-season minutes will always be a concern and it would be tough to pick them against the field, but the Bulls should be the slight favorite to be representing the Eastern Conference in The Finals.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All of the components are there for the Bulls to finally make that long awaited return trip to The Finals. The Cavaliers were supposed to be the team that could roadblock the Bulls, but they aren’t that team in their current state. The Wizards have the talent to give Chicago a major test, yet they still cannot boast as deep or as balanced a roster as the Bulls can when fully healthy. The Raptors and Hawks would provide a stern playoff test, but both would come up short in three extremely important categories (size, seasoning and star power). The Bulls have everything you need, including Derrick Rose in uniform and not street clothes. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows that his team’s time is now. Chicago’s championship window is open now and it must take advantage of it.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The biggest concern for the Bulls is their own ligaments, tendons and muscles. Given the recent history of injuries among their best players, this is no small threat. If they are healthy, then they are it in the East. If they’re vulnerable physically, then the race becomes a scramble with anyone currently in the top five (plus Miami, which still has hope of pulling things together) having a shot at reaching the NBA Finals. Whereupon that team will be destroyed in five games or less.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I will recuse myself from answering the Atlanta Hawks because of inherent legacy fandom. (Even though I think the Hawks could knock off Chicago this season.) But I will say this: Why is everyone writing off the Cavaliers? I mean, I understand that it’s fun to watch a burgeoning empire stumble out of the gates, but the story this week about the team possibly not believing in Blatt reminded me so much of the first months of Erik Spoelstra’s tenure in Miami, when sources said the team may not have been buying into what he was selling. But the Heat stuck with it and I think we can all agree that things worked out pretty well there. The Cavs may have posted more misses than hits to start the season, but I think it’s short-sighted to write them off today. Cleveland still should be running with the Bulls by the end of the season.