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LRB
02-27-2003, 05:54 AM
Can the Bulls make a charge?
By Terry Brown
Wednesday, February 26 Updated 11:09 AM EST


The drive for the Chicago Bulls' seventh NBA title begins Saturday, March 1, in where else but our nation's capital against who else but Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards.

Now that I have your attention . . .

At 20-38 and five years removed from respectability, the Bulls are nine games behind the Milwaukee Bucks despite being 18 games below fifty-fifty.

At home, they are 17-9 with only three teams in the entire Eastern Conference having fewer loses in their own buildings. And, counting tonight, 10 of their 16 games are at the United Center.

Against teams currently lottery bound, the Bulls are 7-9 since the new year began with three of those losses coming in overtime. They are a total of seven points from being 10-6. And, counting tonight, nine of their next 16 games through the month of March are against such teams.

On the other hand, the Bucks, who have lost six of their last 10 games, have stripped down their squad from a season ago with the departures of Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen, their two leading scorers, and now start two point guards for a coach who shamed the nation that actually produced Dr. James Naismith over the summer.

They play 11 of their 17 games in March on the road not counting the Feb. 28 matchup with the Pacers in Indiana. And of those six home games, three of them are against the Spurs, Lakers and Hornets while another is against, well, Glenn Robinson basking in I-Told-You-Sos on his way to a career-high in made three-pointers.

The Bulls have nothing to lose.

The Bucks are on the verge of auction to the highest bidder.

Of course, Chris Webber and Shaquille O'Neal would have to tangle each other up on March 20, both of them falling on Kobe Bryant and Peja Stojakovic and all of them ending up in the hospital, while, on that very same night, Tim Duncan happens to fall over Dirk Nowitzki and on top of Steve Nash, not to mention a cow, a moon, a few pigs with wings and lipped chickens for the Bulls or any other team from the East to have a chance at the title . . .

. . . but now that I have your attention, here are the five easiest and five toughest schedules in March.

EASIEST MARCH SCHEDULES
1. Detroit Pistons

Road Games: 4
Quality Opponents: 6

Comment: Cover your ears. The three-game skid is about to come to a crash against the Kings in Sacramento and Lakers in Los Angeles. But then February ends and March begins, which means the Pistons have a five-game homestand that will take them to the middle of the month followed by a four-game homestand that will take them into April. Heck, after March 2, Detroit will play only two more road games the entire month and then get three more home meetings in a row beginning on the second of next month which is, really, about time since they haven't played consecutive home games since Feb. 5.

2. Orlando Magic

Road Games: 5
Quality Opponents: 6

Comment: The good news is that the Magic have won four in a row and are currently in possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The bad news is that they've still lost six of their last 11 and, at 29-29, have just as many loses as the Washington Wizards, the team right behind them in the standings. But games against the Cavs, Bulls and Nuggets to start next month should have them good and ready for the March 11 matchup with those very same Wizards. And if not, two games against the Heat as well as games against the Cavs and Grizzlies should help them recover. Add in a game against New York and that's eight patsies in 15 games, carry the one, keeping them above .500 and in the playoffs. At least in the East.

3. Seattle SuperSonics

Road Games: 5
Quality Opponents: 7

Comment: By March 15, newly acquired Ray Allen will have already played eight homes games in Seattle since being traded from Milwaukee on Feb. 20 not counting the home game he had to sit out the following day against the Bucks. And of the five road games he and his teammate will play this month, not one of them is within 72 hours of another.

4. Chicago Bulls

Road Games: 6
Quality Opponents: 7

Comment: See above.


5. Atlanta Hawks

Road Games: 6
Quality Opponents: 7

Comment: Forget about Lon Kruger, playoff guarantees and the fact that this franchise once traded for Isaiah Rider and realize that the Hawks have yet to win more than three games in a row this entire year but very well could beginning March 4 against the Nuggets and continuing, in order, with the Cavaliers, Raptors and Clippers. I guess the Heat and Grizzlies, the only two other teams yet to have won 20 games so far this season, were busy.

TOUGHEST MARCH SCHEDULES
25. Golden State Warriors

Road Games: 9
Quality Opponents: 10

Comment: Let's be honest here. It doesn't really matter if these youngsters play the Lakers in L.A. or Memphis Grizzlies by the Bay because, in the end, they'll win the one you least expect them to before or after losing to a team as bad as they used to be. Currently, they're on a three-game win streak, which followed a three-game losing streak, which followed another three-game win streak not to be confused with the three-game losing streak they started February on immediately following wins against the Lakers, Nets and Jazz.

26. Milwaukee Bucks

Road Games: 9
Quality Opponents: 10

Comment: See above.

27. San Antonio Spurs

Road Games: 6
Quality Opponents: 13

Comment: Popovich and crew complete the longest road trip in franchise history by winning more consecutive road games than any other team in league history and what do they get . . . a month full of opponents headed for the playoffs. A few unlucky teams will play 10 such opponents. One team will play 11. The Spurs get the Kings, Rockets and Nets to start the month followed by a road trip to Boston, Milwaukee and Minnesota and end the month against the Mavericks, Timberwolves, Lakers, Bucks, Rockets, Jazz, take a breath, and Hornets all in 10 days. Welcome back.

28. Los Angeles Lakers

Road Games: 10
Quality Opponents: 10

Comment: It isn't going to be Chris Webber and the Kings who beat the Lakers on March 20 in Arco Arena but rather the Clippers in Staples on March 17 and Celtics on March 21 who kill them. Not Yao Ming and the Rockets on March 26, but the Hawks and Wizards and the 25th and 28th, respectively. In all, the defending champs and recent playoff invitees will play 16 games in 26 days in 11 different cities.

29. Philadelphia 76ers

Road Games: 12
Quality Opponents: 9

Comment: Not even when the Spurs started February in what would become an historic nine-game road trip did they have to play in as many away games as the Sixers will this month. A five-game Western Conference swing is followed by a three-game Eastern Conference swing with home dates against the Central Division-leading Pacers and red-hot Blazers (who have the second-best road record in the entire league at 18-11) in between. Of course, we haven't even gotten to the two two-game road trips that will follow those games because we'd much rather focus on the six-game win streak currently running in February.