Bulls’ playoff implications ahead of must-win game vs Cavaliers

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Bulls are in a must-win situation Saturday night in Cleveland as they take on the Cavaliers.

The Chicago Bulls officially have a problem — actually, a bunch if we’re being honest. They only have nine games remaining in the regular season and are one game out of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.

This team hasn’t shown the ability to compete with elite opponents and are now struggling to compete with sub-.500 teams. On Thursday, they were mopped by the 31-42 Pelicans by a score of 126-109. They also were destroyed by the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday to the tune of 126-98.

Their defense hasn’t made an appearance in the month of March, and their offense disappears on the road. They are 16-20 on the road and are currently one of two teams with a record above .500  despite a losing effort on the road.

Billy Donovan hasn’t had an answer for the Bulls’ horrid stretch that has now lasted a month. The team’s injuries, combined with the poor role player production and absence of leadership on the court has put them in a free-fall from the top of the east.

Bulls-Cavaliers NBA playoff implications on Saturday

Donovan, Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine and Tristan Thompson have all sounded off on the team’s issues, but it’s done just about nothing to turn things around.

The Bulls can talk about what’s going wrong and what needs to happen, but the fact of the matter is they have to show it on the court. They have to play defense consistently and hustle for loose balls and rebounds to finish the possession. They have to figure out how to get their role guys involved more effectively. They can’t just give up after being deflated by a run from the opposition.

If they do that when adversity hits on Saturday, they will be looking at their third straight loss and will be playing each game to avoid the play-in. The Cavs can tie the season series with a victory and can tie the Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings for fifth place. The Raptors, who play the Pacers on Saturday, have the same record as the Cavs, too. So, with a Toronto win, we’ll have a three-way tie for fifth place.

However, a win Saturday doesn’t solve all of the Bulls’ problems, either. Should they remain in fifth and further separate themselves from the Cavs and Raptors, Chicago will still be at least three games behind fourth place, leaving them at risk of playing a first-round road series against one of the Celtics, Bucks, 76ers or Heat, depending on how the remainder of the season shakes out for those teams. Let’s take a quick look there:

  1. Miami Heat
  2. Philadelphia 76ers (0.5 games back)
  3. Milwaukee Bucks (0.5 games back)
  4. Boston Celtics (1.0 games back)

If they drop to sixth, then they’ll also be facing a similar scenario with a road series against whoever ends up in the No. 3 spot.

Saturday is the first of nine games for the Bulls to salvage their season. To do so, they will have to rediscover themselves and do it quickly.

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