Here come the Chicago Bulls?
To many, the Eastern Conference was supposed to be a four-team race in 2013-14, but injuries and other struggles knocked the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls from the tier currently occupied by the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. In fact, with Derrick Rose out and the Nets floundering early, many believed it inevitable that the Pacers and Heat would square off in the East finals.
However, both Brooklyn and Chicago have quietly improved in recent weeks, with the Bulls at the moment downright surging -- after their 109-90 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday, the Bulls have won nine of 10 and enter Monday's game at Brooklyn with a 33-26 record. Yes, 10.5 games still separate the Bulls from the second-in-the-East Heat, but perhaps Tom Thibodeau's gritty team can give one of the two juggernauts a series, even without Rose or the traded Luol Deng.