Even as the Atlanta Hawks have threatened to lap the Eastern Conference field — they lead by 7 1/2 games over second-place Toronto — we’ve kept hearing how the road to the NBA finals still runs through Cleveland or Chicago. But now the Bulls, yet again, have lost Derrick Rose to a knee injury, and it’s not sure when he’ll return after surgery.
Not to revel in someone else’s misfortune, but the Bulls without Rose aren’t the same as the Bulls with him. If he can’t play in the postseason, Chicago is no longer a threat to win the East. And here’s what else the loss of Rose figures to do: Make the Hawks’ Round 2 matchup that much easier.
The Bulls and the Cavaliers were in race for the third spot in the East. No. 3 figures to fall to LeBron’s crew now. That means the Hawks wouldn’t see Cleveland until the Eastern Conference finals, and that’s no bad thing. Instead they’d get the Bulls or Washington or maybe Milwaukee, and the Hawks are 7-1 against those three.
Assuming the Hawks hold the No. 1 seed, they’ll play a sub-.500 No. 8 in Round 1, and that would be a walkover. Not having to play Cleveland in Round 2 would be a break, and so’s the thought the Cavs having to slug it out with the Raptors before they’d get to the Hawks.
And truth to tell, I’m not yet sold on Cleveland. Granted, it has won 17 of 19, but only six of those 17 have come against plus-.500 teams.