Bulls down to their last postseason chance after 115-107 loss to the Nets

·3 min read

CHICAGO — If the Chicago Bulls were going to overcome the odds and make the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, they needed two things to happen this week.

First, they needed help from one of the teams in front of them. They trail the 10th-place Washington Wizards (32-37) by three games after Tuesday night, but they no longer can catch the Indiana Pacers or Charlotte Hornets — who are tied for eighth at 33-36, four games ahead of the Bulls (29-40) — after the Pacers beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday and the Hornets lost to the Denver Nuggets.

More importantly, however, the Bulls needed to take care of their own business — and they failed to do that Tuesday in a 115-107 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at the United Center. Now their last chance is to win all three of their remaining games against some stiff competition and have the Wizards lose all three of their games.

Zach Lavine scored a game-high 41 points for the Bulls Tuesday.

Kevin Durant led the Nets with 21 points and eight assists.

“We have no control of what those other teams are going to do, how their schedules are going to play out, who’s going to play, who’s going to sit,” coach Billy Donovan said before the game. “And to waste any time or energy on something we can’t control, to me, is a waste of time. We’ve got to focus on what we’ve got to do.”

The Bulls have been in must-win mode to save their season since LaVine returned from a positive COVID-19 test and Nikola Vucevic returned from a hip injury. Before Tuesday they had won three consecutive games since both players returned to apply some pressure to the teams holding the final play-in slots, but their urgency may have arrived too late.

“We had a really, really slim chance and we took that upon ourselves to try to make it happen,” LaVine said after shootaround Tuesday afternoon. “Every one, including this one tonight and going forward, it’s going to be important. You’ve got a win-now situation.”

One potential benefit for the Bulls: They own the tiebreaker against the Wizards after winning the season series.

After hosting the Nets on Tuesday, the Bulls remain home to play Thursday against the Toronto Raptors — who were eliminated from postseason contention this week and have been sitting most of their key players — before traveling to Brooklyn on Saturday and wrapping up the season with a home game Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks. That’s three out of four games against the conference’s No. 2 and No. 3 seeds to wrap up the season.

The schedules for the teams ahead of them are not nearly as arduous, but the Bulls struggled badly for weeks after the trade deadline and lost the chance to control their destiny.

“You can’t look at what they can do to help you,” LaVine said. “We’re the ones that put ourselves in this predicament. We understand that. We just have to control what we can. If we go out there and worry about them and don’t take care of our job, then this is all for naught.”

The Bulls can’t afford to scoreboard watch too much, but on their days off they have been watching other teams closely.

The Pacers and Wizards played a thrilling overtime game Saturday night, won by the Wizards, and with the Bulls off Monday, LaVine said he tuned in to watch the Wizards’ Russell Westbrook break Oscar Robertson’s all-time triple-double record in a one-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

“I think a lot of guys are tuned in,” LaVine said. “You’re watching because you’re in competition with them. You’re never counting on people to lose. I’m not that type of guy, just hoping they lose. You’re just watching to see what happens.”

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