Why tonight’s game vs. Hawks is essentially a playoff matchup for Bulls

Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

Likely feeling on top of the world after overcoming a 23-point deficit to upset the West’s second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, the Chicago Bulls have injected a shot of adrenaline and are making a serious push to make noise in the 2023 NBA Playoffs. This momentum has carried the Bulls to a 12-7 record since the All-Star Break, which is an enormous improvement over their record of 26-33 before the addition of Patrick Beverley.

With four games left to play this season, Chicago has firmly secured their spot in the play-in tournament and still has the opportunity to move up the standings. That’s because the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors are only one game ahead of the Bulls, meaning this team could still secure homecourt and two attempts at postseason qualification if they finish the season strong

Fortunately, they won’t have to wait for the Hawks to miss a step, as the Bulls are set to take them on head-to-head tonight. This will be their fourth and final meeting of the season, after Chicago claimed victory in two of the previous three games.

If you may recall, both games between the Hawks and Bulls in December ended on a game-winning last possession, with only three total points separating the teams in both games combined. These two squads seem to be a relatively even match for each other, and that should help contribute to the playoff atmosphere tonight in the United Center.

Should the crowd’s energy from the Grizzlies game carry over to tonight, I imagine this team might just blow the roof off.

Expect tonight’s matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks to have a playoff atmosphere as both teams jostle for position in the play-in tourney.

If the Bulls were to win tonight’s game, they’d leap the Hawks in the standings despite having the same record, due to winning the head-to-head season series 3-1. If the Bulls lose tonight, they’d still have a small chance at climbing back down two games, provided they win the rest of their three games and Atlanta drops a couple before the season concludes.

If by chance the Bulls lose tonight and still manage to catch up to the Hawks to tie their regular season record, here is how the NBA dictates tiebreaks for playoff seeding scenarios.

  1. Better winning percentage in games against each other
    • Not applicable, the season series would be tied 2-2.
  2. Division leader wins a tie over a team not leading a division
    • Not applicable, neither of these teams are leading their division.
  3. Division won-lost percentage (only if teams are in same division)
    • Not applicable, these teams are in different divisions.
  4. Conference won-lost percentage
    • This is where things get dicey, as a loss tonight would put the Bulls at 26-24 against teams in the Eastern Conference, while the Hawks would climb to 25-24. If both the Bulls and Hawks win out, their Conference records would remain tied, but with Chicago still set to play Milwaukee while Atlanta has Boston and Philadelphia on their schedule, that remains unlikely.
  5. Better winning percentage against teams eligible for the playoffs in own
  • In games against the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, Cavaliers, Knicks, and Heat, the Bulls hold a 10-11 record, while the Hawks hold an 8-12 record. Even if the Bulls lose to the Bucks and the Hawks win out, Chicago would still hold the tiebreaker in this scenario.

Obviously, the Bulls would prefer to just take care of business head-to-head tonight. Despite owning the tiebreaker, there’s no guarantee the Hawks will ever grant the Bulls another chance to leap them in the standings this season. Even if Chicago does surpass Atlanta, they still need to catch up to Toronto, so any loss from here on out will be a significant setback for the Bulls.

Even so, Atlanta has a tough schedule moving forward, and Toronto’s is even more daunting — with three of their four remaining games left to play coming against Boston and Milwaukee — so this opens up an opportunity to potentially leap from the 10th seed up to 8th. From there, the Bulls will be given the chance to play either the Heat (who lost all four meetings against Chicago this season) or a Nets team that has struggled to stay afloat in the absence of Kevin Durant.

Either one would be a welcome opponent for the Bulls at this stage, because a victory would mean they can avoid the Bucks outright in the first round of the playoffs. After the beatdown they received at the hands of Milwaukee last year, I’m sure Chicago would be much happier taking its chances against Boston, a team they match up much better with head-to-head.

But to get that ideal matchup, the Chicago Bulls need to come ready to play tonight, as it could all be hinging upon winning this one crucial game. Tonight’s action tips off at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT, so set your times and make sure not to miss out on potentially the most important game of the year.

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