BY KYLE GRIFFIN
A look at some notable opponents and dates for the Bulls heading into the 2015-16 season:
Cavs, at Chicago, Oct. 27
The Bulls will begin this season exactly where we last saw them — at home against the Cavaliers. The Bulls fell to the Cavaliers in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals and will look to avenge the worst home-elimination loss in franchise history.
A LeBron James-led team has eliminated the Bulls in four of the past six playoffs, so needless to say, there’s no love lost here. Every meeting between the Central Division rivals and Eastern Conference powers will be a spirited event with a playoff atmosphere and implications.
The Cavs and Bulls also meet on Jan. 23, Feb. 18 and April 9.
Thunder, at OKC, Dec. 25
The Christmas Day showcase is considered the unofficial kickoff of the season by the casual viewer. For this reason, the NBA wisely reserves this day for the league’s elite and biggest draws. Despite missing the 2014-15 playoffs, the Thunder certainly qualify.
Boasting a roster with superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as well as elite shot-blocker Serge Ibaka, the Thunder look to reassert themselves in the Western Conference.
The Bulls and Thunder also meet on Nov. 5.
All of January
The month of January will be a particularly tough stretch for the Bulls. They play 16 games in 31 nights and only three of those are against opponents likely to land in the lottery.
The stretch includes a home/away back-to-back with Washington and Milwaukee. The Bulls also get three games in four nights with defending champion Golden at home, followed by a road back-to-back with Boston and Cleveland, respectively.
With 10 of the 16 games coming against East playoff foes, if the Bulls can win seven of those 10, they will have a major leg up on the rest of the conference for playoff seeding.
Heat, at Chicago, Jan. 25
The Heat will undoubtedly bounce back after a year full of injury and transition.
Chris Bosh was lost for the year after 44 games due to a blood clot. Goran Dragic was added at the trade deadline and took some time to adjust. But it was the health of Dwyane Wade — who was in and out of the lineup all year — that ultimately was the dagger in their playoff hopes.
Wade unfortunately averages only 66.5 games over 11 seasons (I didn’t include the lockout shortened 2011-12) and the Heat will need more from him to reach the levels they hope to.
The Bulls and Heat have the best chance of unseating the Cavaliers as East champions. These teams could very likely end up as the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, so all four of their games will hold major weight when it comes to playoff positioning.
The Bulls and Heat also meet on March 1, March 11 and April 7.
The Home Stretch
Nine of the final 10 games come against teams that will certainly be in the playoffs or competing for a spot.
Six of those nine games will come on the road and six of nine also come against East opponents. In case you’re wondering, the previous pair of six games aren’t all the same six games.
Considering four wins separated the second and fourth seeds, and four games separated the sixth and 10th seeds, a strong finish could be the difference in home-court advantage and an early exit.