Nothing has come easily for Fred Hoiberg in his two years as the Chicago Bulls’ coach, but the last 10 games of the 2016-17 regular-season are ones he can look at fondly.
The Bulls’ clinched an NBA playoff spot on the last night of the regular-season with a 112-73 rout of the Brooklyn Nets in Chicago. That gave them a 41-41 record and the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Chicago will face the No. 1-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern playoffs.
Last season, Hoiberg’s first as an NBA head coach after leaving Iowa State to sign a five-year, $25 million contract with the Bulls, Chicago went 42-40 but was two games out of eighth-place in the East. That didn’t sit well with a fan base that had seen the Bulls go to the playoffs the previous seven seasons under Tom Thibodeau, who was fired after the 2014-15 season.
This season, with a roster one could accurately describe as flawed, was equally rocky. Chicago got off to an 8-4 start, but eventually was mired at or under the .500 mark for much of the season. The Bulls were 34-39 on March 24, and their playoff prospects looked unpromising.
But Chicago won eight of its final 10 games to hold off the Miami Heat by a game for the No. 8 slot. And by avoiding the seventh spot, the Bulls also avoided a first-round matchup with LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
Of course, the Bulls defeated Cleveland in their last two regular-season meetings, Feb. 25 in Cleveland and March 30 in Chicago. But why push that luck?
Hoiberg, meanwhile, has continued to be on the receiving end of criticism from points near and far. Two weeks ago, ESPN.com ran this story ranking the 30 NBA coaches, and it put Hoiberg at No. 30.
Pro sports is rough, folks.
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But 14 of those 30 coaches just had their seasons end. Now we’ll see if Hoiberg’s Bulls can pull off the biggest NBA playoff upset since No. 8-seed Golden State beat No. 1-seed Dallas in 2007.