"We have 17 games left," Deng said Monday after practice. "We really think we can win all of them. The schedule is in our favor right now."I'll never fault a guy for being openly confident. You need a swagger to advance deep into the playoffs, so it can only help a team when it's best player (no offense, Ben Gordon or Kirk Hinrich) thinks his team is favored no matter who the opponent is.
But what's really interesting is that, big talking aside, Deng might actually be on to something. After taking care of the Celtics on Tuesday, the Bulls have 16 games to go. It's a luxury to play the stretch run without fatigue being a big factor, but of the Bulls' remaining games, only two will come without at least one night's rest preceding.
Their most difficult challenges will be the two remaining games (home and away) with the Pistons, but after blowing out Detroit earlier in the year and narrowly losing on the road last month (when the refs swallowed the whistle on Chris Webber's last-second push-off/put-back sequence), those two games could clearly go either way, no matter what the venue.
Chicago's Achilles' heel, of course, is leaving the United Center -- they've won just 13 of 33 games on the road. But still, among the eight remaining road games are extremely winnable contests this week against Philadelphia and Memphis plus one against the free-falling Pacers (losers of 10 straight) the following week and another against the sub-.500 Hawks in April.
Unlike Detroit (who still has to face the Mavericks and Suns) and Cleveland (who face the Mavericks and Jazz), Chicago won't have to face any of the contenders from the West, just the Nuggets and Clippers, a couple of borderline playoff teams, in addition to Memphis and Portland.
The Bulls are currently in third in the Central, which means they're seeded fifth in the East. But even if they don't win out it's very possible (and maybe even likely) that they'll overtake the Cavs for second place, both in the division and playoff seed. It's far too early to consider the bracket ramifications of such a move, but if all else stayed the same, the two seed would avoid meeting the No. 1 Pistons or No. 6 Heat until the conference finals, which has to be considered a best-case scenario.