Ranking the Chicago Bulls’ ideal 2023 first-round playoff matchups

Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Potential Chicago Bulls 2023 NBA Playoffs Matchups (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Potential Chicago Bulls 2023 NBA Playoffs Matchups (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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Zach LaVine is back to his old self, the Patrick Beverley effect is real, and the Chicago Bulls are winning games on the road — is it time to start taking this team seriously again? That’s hard to say, as this team’s engine always seems to fail right when they begin picking up steam, proven by their ability to surpass anything more than a three-game winning streak this season. That being said, the playoffs are looking like a more realistic possibility now than they have for a while now.

I don’t want to get too ahead of myself here, I’d prefer for the Bulls to finish the season strong with a few more wins than losses before I start taking their playoff chances seriously. That being said, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to have a few teams on the radar already as potentially favorable first-round matchups if they do manage to advance through the play-in tournament.

Of the current top four seeds in the Eastern Conference, I think there’s a clear hierarchy here in who the Bulls would hope to draw in the first round among their realistic potential opponents.

If the Chicago Bulls recover and advance to the 2023 NBA Playoffs, they’ll be forced to play an elite Eastern Conference team in the first round.

4. Philadelphia 76ers (45-22)

There’s no easy way to say it, but Joel Embiid‘s penchant for beating the Chicago Bulls is one of the NBA’s worst-kept secrets. With each impending matchup against Philadelphia, fans in the Windy City are incessantly reminded of the NBA superstar’s undefeated record.

Dating all the way back to January 2018, Embiid has dominated Chicago for over half a decade now. He’s averaged an incredible 29.1 points and 11.3 rebounds en route to a perfect 12-0 record in that span. With Nikola Vucevic manning the center spot for the Bulls now, I just can’t trust this team to limit Embiid’s scoring opportunities. His impact over the course of a potential seven-game series would almost certainly be too much for the Bulls to overcome when all is said and done.

That’s not even factoring in the dynamic James Harden, who has propelled the 76ers to a 34-16 record in games he’s played this season. That’s on pace for potentially an NBA best 55-27, if he played in every game like he will in the playoffs. Harden and Embiid are undeniable in the pick-and-roll and have a very strong case for the league’s best two-man pairing.

While the Bulls did manage a convincing 126-112 win against the Sixers earlier this season, I don’t like Chicago’s odds here if their lone hope rests on Embiid suffering another ill-timed injury. Not only is that a disappointing admission of the lack of talent on the Bulls, but I also hate the idea of wishing tragedy on a bonafide MVP candidate just so Chicago can advance past the first round. I’d rather just avoid Embiid and the 76ers altogether.