The Possible Play-In Paths for the Bulls

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers
Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

With the 2023-24 NBA season in its final weeks, the Bulls are still fighting to make the postseason. Sitting with a 34-38 record as of March 26th, Chicago sits in the ninth seed in the East. It is highly unlikely that the Bulls will catch the seventh and eighth seeded Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, who are 39-32 and 39-33, respectively.

There is a chance that the 10th seeded Atlanta Hawks (currently 32-39) could move into ninth, with star guard Trae Young expected to be back before the end of the season. With the 11th seed Brooklyn Nets currently 27-45 and over five games behind the Hawks, an absolute disaster is the only way the Bulls would miss the Play-in. 

With the Bulls unofficially locked into the Play-In, they will either be hosting the 10th seeded team on April 17th or playing the 9th seed as the 10th seed for the second season in a row.  It is almost guaranteed that the Bulls will be facing the Hawks.

In their two matchups so far this season, Chicago beat Atlanta both times with the Hawks having Trae Young in the lineup. If he were to return this season, it is unlikely he would be 100% due to the injury being to his hand. The two teams play again on April 1st.

If Chicago can win the 9/10 matchup, they will be on the road facing the loser of the 7/8 matchup. Fortunately, Chicago has played well against both the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers this season. Against Miami, Chicago went 2-2 this season, playing all four games between November and December. The first two games in featured Zach LaVine and the last two did not.

If Chicago were to play against Miami, it would be a rematch from the Play-In last season. Chicago led the game with just under three minutes left before Miami would storm back winning 102-91. Miami would then make their way through an injured Milwaukee team, New York, and Boston before losing in the Finals to Denver. With playoff Jimmy Butler being locked in and Chicago missing a key scorer in Zach LaVine, a Miami vs. Chicago matchup could spell the end of the Bulls’ season. 

Against Philadelphia, however, Chicago won two of the three games they played this season. One of those wins saw Joel Embiid score 40 points against Chicago and he was not playing in the Bulls’ second win. While Embiid has not made a return to the court yet, there is still a belief that he will return before the end of the season.

If he does return to the court before the end of the season, it is highly likely that he will still be ramping up his conditioning after two months off the court. It is also highly like that he will not be anywhere near 100%. Having something to prove, it would be expected that Embiid puts up a monster performance trying to get his team into the playoffs while sending Chicago packing.

If Chicago could make it past Miami or Philadelphia, they would make the playoffs as the 8th seed, facing the Boston Celtics in the first round. Against Boston this season, it has been brutal for Chicago, losing all three games including a 17-point loss and a 27-point loss. In their closet game of the season on March 25th, Boston was missing Jalyen Brown, Kristaps Porzingis, and Jrue Holiday.

With Boston being both a top-three offense (first in the league) and defense (third best), the Celtics have been able to storm through most of their competition this season. In the 35 home games they have played so far this season, they are 32-3, losing against Denver and both LA teams.

They are also undefeated at home against Eastern Conference teams. In a playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Chicago would more than likely get swept unless something were to go horribly wrong for Boston. 

While the Bulls are locked into the Play-In Tournament as of right now, the best-case scenario for the team is not getting Swept by Boston in a 1/8 matchup. Following a rough 5-14 start this season, Chicago has been able to improve on their season, having a record of 29-24 since then. With a couple of weeks left before the start of the Play-In, the Bulls have a mix of title contenders as well as a few bottom-of-the-league teams remaining on their schedule. Currently four games under .500, finishing the season above .500 would be a great way for Chicago to head into the Play-In.