Path to the Playoffs: The Wizards and the Bulls

Rob Carr - Getty Images

Path To The Playoffs is a short series examining possible competiton for the lower seeds in the East through the eyes of a Wizards fan. Up first, surprising, or not so surprisingly, is the Chicago Bulls.

Today's bit examines last year's playoff teams destined for a lower seed...if they don't miss the playoffs entirely. No team seems poised for a bigger fall than the Chicago Bulls.

It may seem contradictory that I would project the Bulls as a possible low playoff seed (predicated on Derrick Rose's injury) for a Wizards team whose postseason chances depend on the vagaries of plantar fasciitis. And yet, the Wizards duking it out with a squad that couldn't get past last year's iteration of the 76ers with homecourt advantage can hardly be out of the realm of possibility.

When the league's reigning MVP went down in the postseason, the number one seed in the East looked mighty mortal. Against a strong defensive team, Chicago's offense suddenly depended on Luol Deng carrying the load, and it didn't work out for Chicago any more than it worked out for Great Britain. Both teams lacked a true number one and Andre Iguodala's free throw shooting swung the needle in Game 6 (for the team he played for, this time).

The Wizards and the Bulls both rely on their point guards to be a transformational force, though John Wall's shooting hasn't reached a place where he can command respect from opposing defenses in the back court. And Washington still has less shooting, weaker defense and a rebounding deficit.

The gap has closed on all fronts; Omer Asik became a cap casualty, the Bench Mobb is no more. They signed Kirk Hinrich and drafted Marquis Teague to staunch the bleeding in the back court. While Wizards fans followed Nene's injury-hampered progress as Brazil's first big off the bench through the Olympics with apprehension, that's nothing compared to Bulls fans watching Luol Deng try to be Great Britain's do-everything with an injured (shooting) wrist. Carlos Boozer to the rescue?

In contrast, the Wizards improved at every position by pretty much every means available to a franchise. Owner Ted Leonsis doubled down on head coach Randy Wittman, expanding his staff. If Witt and new hire Don Newman can smoothly integrate Okariza into the defense greatly improved by the departure of JaVale McGee, the team will become a defensive nightmare that isn't quite sure where it's next bucket is coming from. Unless...

Realizing upside is crucial. Okafor, Ariza and Nene are all playoff veterans, but they aren't headliners. That's in accordance with Ted Leonsis' Ten Point Plan for franchise-building. This season in DC is about finding out who's ready to step up. If a few of the talented are ready to answer the call and if DRose is slow to rehab or regain form, the Bulls could find themselves in a dogfight with a doppelganger at the bottom of the playoff bracket in an East that looks to be tougher than most casual fans might care to admit.

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