Bulls enter 'must-win' territory tonight against depleted Jazz

Utah Jazz v Chicago Bulls
Utah Jazz v Chicago Bulls / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

After losing to a historically poor Pistons team for the second time this season, it seemed like all hope was lost for the Chicago Bulls. Rather than letting the season slip away, the Bulls defied all our expectations. They emerged with two victories in their next three games as underdogs against the heavily favored Cavaliers, Bucks, and Kings to right their wrongs.

Although they've gotten three games against elite competition out of the way, the Bulls still have three legs of their four-game West Coast road trip remaining on the schedule. Next up on the dock is the 28-34 Utah Jazz, who much like Chicago, are struggling to keep their heads above water and remain in the playoff picture.

This would usually be a game I'd be apprehensive about Chicago's chances of winning. After all, since joining Utah, former Bulls prized prospect Lauri Markkanen has excelled in games against the team that gave up on him. Every game feels like a revenge game for Markkanen, as he's averaged a stellar 29.7 points and 6 rebounds while shooting 48.3% from long-range in his last three games against the Bulls.

Fortunately, it seems the Bulls may dodge a bullet here tonight, as Lauri has officially been ruled out tonight due to a quadriceps injury. He won't be Utah's only scratch tonight, as Walker Kessler, Taylor Hendricks, and Otto Porter Jr. are all listed out while Keyonte George is questionable to play due to an illness.

The Bulls could build momentum for a playoff run if they defeat the depleted Jazz tonight.

The Jazz's rotation should look particularly thin in the absence of all these players tonight, Expect Jordan Clarkson, Talen-Horton Tucker, and former Bulls guard Kris Dunn to get increased run off the bench to compensate for the loss of up to three starters.

This is a big opportunity for the Bulls to bounce back against the undermanned Jazz and advance to 30-32 with a win on the road. Winning three of four games over this tough stretch might even be enough to make up for the embarrassment they suffered against Detroit.

The Bulls currently sit in 9th place in the East with a two-game lead on the 10th-seeded Hawks. If they play up to their standards for the rest of the season, there's no reason to think the Bulls won't qualify for the play-in tournament. Chicago holds the 8th-easiest remaining strength of schedule in the NBA, so there's no excuse for this team to limp across the finish line.

Meanwhile, the teams directly ahead of the Bulls in the standings may not fare quite as well. The Heat and Embiid-less 76ers each have a six-game lead over Chicago, while the 8th-seeded Pacers are five games ahead of the Bulls. This is a big gap to cross but might be manageable considering Indiana holds the 7th hardest remaining schedule and the 76ers will struggle without their superstar to carry them to the playoffs.

With 21 games left on the schedule, this might be Chicago's last chance to build momentum for a genuine playoff run. Coby White and DeMar DeRozan have already assumed a great burden to get the Bulls this far by leading the league in minutes played, so it's time for the rest of the team to step up and support Chicago's new star duo. That all starts here tonight in what feels like a 'must-win' game against the depleted Jazz.

Next. Comeback win proves Coby is ready to lead these Bulls. Comeback win proves Coby is ready to lead these Bulls. dark