Zach LaVine is back, and the Bulls are on a two game winning streak! With victories most recently over the Charlotte Hornets (120-99) and the Boston Celtics (121-99), the Bulls have improved their record to 28-39 on the season, and are now the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference. With this late season surge, Zach and company find themselves 3 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the final play-in spot with just 5 games left to play in the season. It will take some stellar play from the Bulls, and some help from around the league if they are to make it.
With 2 games left against the Brooklyn Nets, and 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the outlook for some extra-curricular games for the Bulls is still pretty bleak. They do have a game with the tanking Detroit Piston’s today, and a game against the struggling Toronto Raptors later this week, but no matter what happens the rest of the way, the Bulls will need the Pacers to lose the majority of their 5 remaining games if a miracle is to happen.
In European soccer, when a team narrowly avoids relegation at the end of a season it’s called a “great escape.” I feel like, if the Bulls squeeze their way into the play-in tournament, it’ll amount to the same thing.
“Shouldn’t we be tanking, and trying to secure the best lottery odds for a top 4 pick in the upcoming draft?” You might be asking.
Yeah, that would probably be the smart thing for the Bulls to do, but if history has shown us one thing about this franchise, they aren’t very good at tanking. After 3 seasons of playing lousy basketball the Bulls have only managed one top 4 draft pick. That’s because no matter how bad a team plays, there is still an element of luck involved in where you end up picking. While you absolutely want to secure the best odds you can at a top 4 draft pick, there is no guarantee that your losing efforts will be rewarded. Besides, try telling Zach LaVine or Nikola Vucevic it’s in their best interest to lose games.
With a reinvigorated pair of All-Stars, and some better defensive play of late, the Chicago Bulls still have a legitimate shot at the play-in tournament. But there chances rest heavily, not just on their own efforts, but on how well the Indiana Pacers play in their last 5 games.
Fortunately, the Pacer’s schedule is almost as difficult as the Bulls, with games against the Philadelphia ‘76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Los Angeles Lakers. They do have a couple easier games against those same struggling Raptors, and the tanking Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s going to be a tight race for that final play-in spot, but the Bulls do have an advantage over the Pacers, they beat Indiana two out of three times this season, and hold the tie-breaker over them if the two teams finish with the same record.
No matter how this season turns out, the Bulls are again playing exciting basketball with the return of their leader, Zach LaVine. Even though LaVine is still trying to get his wind back after several weeks of Covid induced inactivity, the rest of the team has made up for it with a little extra bounce in their step.
Nikola Vucevic recorded his first triple-double as a Bull in the win over the Celtics. He had 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists, dominating the undersized Celtics. Coby White is finishing the season strong. His scoring is up, his turnovers down, and he seems a lot more comfortable on the court now that he’s making shots. Daniel Theis, Garrett Temple, and Thadeus Young have all been contributing on both ends of the court. Even Lauri Markkanen, in his limited minutes off the bench, has been putting forth effort we haven’t seen from him since his rookie year. I said it earlier in the season, but it’s still true, the Bulls are fun again.
It helps when you have something to play for, and, for the moment at least, they do.
A strong finish to the season will help the franchise in the offseason too. It will be easier for any potential free agent targets to sign with the Bulls if they see a team trending upward. That’s why it’s so nice to see the Bulls putting together their best season of the rebuild. Even if they don’t make the play-in tournament, they have the more wins than in the past 3 seasons, and have a chance to finish with 30+. They are a big market team, with 2 All-Stars, that is sniffing the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. If the Round Table play their cards right, the Bulls could be seen as a very attractive landing destination for any of the available top tier free agents.
So, there is hope once again in the Bulls, hope like we haven’t seen in a good number of years. And that’s another reason why it’s so important to finish strong this season. It will rejuvenate us fans. It’s been a while since the Bulls have been on the uptick, or in any sort of playoff/playoff adjacent contention. I can’t remember a time I’ve been this excited for the last couple weeks of the season, and then free agency in the offseason. The Bulls have achieved a lot this season, and it’s looking like they’ll achieve even more next season.
Until they do, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!