Bulls dangerously close to hectic Eastern Conference play-in tournament

Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls are flying dangerously close to the play-in tournament, currently 2.5 games out of seventh place. After such a great start, the Bulls’ current skid has been extremely disappointing (despite Monday night’s win over the Raptors).

At the moment, Chicago is currently in the midst of a five-year playoff drought, but hope began to turn around thanks to the team’s fast start in 2021-2022. They ended the first half of the season 27-14. Since then they are 15-15. Teams have figured out their offense by baiting their stars into traps and their defense has largely fallen apart. The injury bug hasn’t helped either.

It doesn’t take a Nostradamus or even Bruno Madrigal to envision the Bulls limping to the end of the regular season. With Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams recovering from injuries, the Bulls need the break in between the regular season and playoffs. As it stands, they will have a seven-day break between their final game and the start of the first round.

Are the Chicago Bulls actually in danger of falling into the play-in tournament?

The answer is a hard yes. The 2.5-game difference with the Raptors stands as the closest, but the 4.5-game cushion from the Brooklyn Nets certainly isn’t safe with Kevin Durant back in the fold.

Chicago has been playing a mediocre (at best) brand of basketball. They have 11 games left in the season, including an upcoming five game-road trip.

  • Mar. 22 at Milwaukee
  • Mar. 24 at New Orleans
  • Mar. 26 at Cleveland
  • Mar. 28 at New York
  • Mar. 29 at Washington
  • Mar. 31 vs Clippers
  • Apr. 2 vs Miami
  • Apr. 5 vs Milwaukee
  • Apr. 6 vs Boston
  • Apr. 8 vs Charolette
  • Apr. 10 at Minnesota

In that stretch, they play four elite teams who they’ve recently lost to. They play the Milwaukee Bucks twice, against whom they are 0-2 and have not found an answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo. In their first two games, he averaged 32 points and 14 rebounds.

While records never guarantee a win, the Bulls have fared better against sub-.500 teams … but the problem is that they only have four games against such teams. They have seven games against playoff teams, three of which are on the road. On the other hand, the Raptors have 10 games left and only play five teams north of .500. As for the Nets, they’ll play the Pistons, Hawks, Knicks, Pacers, Rockets, Hornets and Cavs for seven out of their last 10 games and will get the Heat and Grizzlies on the road, where Kyrie Irving will be able to play.

Can the Chicago Bulls miss the playoffs altogether?

The answer is a soft yes. If the Bulls are to fall into the play-in tournament they would likely play the Brooklyn Nets team at home. While home-court advantage usually sounds helpful, it won’t be against arguably the best roster in the NBA. Irving is not allowed to play in home contests, so home court actually doesn’t help the Bulls in this scenario. He’s been a part-time player this year due to New York City’s vaccine mandate, meaning he’s incredibly well-rested.

If the Bulls lose their first game in the tournament, they would play the winner of the 9-10 game. That would be the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets. Of those two, Charolette is a more favorable matchup. While LaMelo Ball and crew push tempo and are one of the most exciting teams in the league, they don’t usually win game close games. The scary matchup would be the Atlanta Hawks, a team that has a star in Trae Young who can change the trajectory of a game with his scoring ability and has done so in the playoffs.

We could go down the list and talk about how some of these would be very bad matchups for the Bulls. In reality, any team in the play-in tournament is exposed to serious risk of elimination, so Chicago needs to rediscover themselves over these final 11 games to secure a spot in a seven-game series so their hard work doesn’t go to waste in the event they run into a hot team if they’re bounced from a guaranteed spot in the first round.