How slim are the Chicago Bulls’ playoff odds? A look at where the teams fighting for the Eastern Conference play-in spots stand.

·5 min read

It’s the final week of the NBA regular season, and the Chicago Bulls are still alive — mathematically, at least — in the race for the postseason.

Since Zach LaVine returned from the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol, the Bulls (29-39) have won three games in a row, holding each opponent to fewer than 100 points to put some pressure on the other teams vying for the final spots in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.

“We need to keep playing this way if we want to keep our season alive,” LaVine said after Sunday’s 108-96 win against the Detroit Pistons.

Entering Monday’s games, the Bulls’ playoff chances are slim. They trail the Indiana Pacers by 2½ games for the No. 10 seed with four games left for the Bulls and five for the Pacers. Basketball Reference gives the Bulls a 0.9% probability of making the playoffs.

The Bulls’ elimination number is three, meaning any combination of their losses and Pacers wins equaling three would eliminate them from postseason contention. While the Bulls have finally started to show some life recently, they face an uphill battle with an unforgiving schedule.

Let’s take stock of the play-in race heading into the final week.

How the play-in tournament works:

This is the first year of the NBA’s play-in tournament, so here’s a quick explainer of how it works. It sounds complicated at first, but we promise it makes sense.

The Nos. 7-10 seeds in each conference are entered into the play-in tournament. The No. 7 seed plays the No. 8, and the winner becomes the No. 7 seed in the conference playoffs. The loser has another chance to keep its season alive with a game against the winner of the No. 9-vs.-No. 10 matchup to determine the eighth seed for the playoffs.

So there’s an advantage for each higher seed. The Nos. 7 and 8 seeds have to win only one game to advance, while the Nos. 9 and 10 seeds have to win a pair. The higher-seeded team also gets a home game.

No. 9 Washington Wizards

The Wizards have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA for a month.

They are 15-5 in their last 20 games, surging from No. 13 in the Eastern Conference on April 7 all the way up to No. 9, where they stand after beating the Pacers 133-132 in overtime Saturday night.

The Wizards are three games ahead of the Bulls with four games remaining: a two-game road series against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday and Wednesday, followed by home games against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and Charlotte Hornets on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook has been resurgent since he got healthy again, but an injury to Bradley Beal could be a potential setback. Beal will miss Monday’s game with a mild left hamstring strain, and his status is uncertain for the rest of the regular season, according to The Athletic.

No. 10 Indiana Pacers

The Pacers have enough talent on their roster to hang on to their spot in the postseason.

They have dropped five of their last seven games to slip to No. 10 amid reports about the uncertainty of the future of coach Nate Bjorkgren and turmoil in their locker room. So perhaps they are vulnerable.

The Pacers have five games remaining: They visit the Cavaliers on Monday, then play three straight home games — Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday against the Milwaukee Bucks and Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers — before closing against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

It’s going to take a major slip for the Pacers to lose their spot in the final week.

No. 11 Chicago Bulls

The Bulls finally look like they’re putting something together after the trade deadline. The question is whether they’ve woken up too late.

They play four games during this final week, three of which are at home but against stiff competition. They host the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night and the Raptors on Thursday. Then the Bulls travel to Brooklyn on Saturday before returning home Sunday to host the Bucks.

The Nets and Bucks also are fighting for playoff positioning, but both teams are well behind the 76ers for the No. 1 seed and could decide to rest players by the weekend. The Nets are trying to get their entire team on the floor to play together before the postseason, and James Harden said he expects to return at some point this week.

The Bulls controlled their playoff destiny for months before they stumbled to a 5-10 record with LaVine and Nikola Vučević in the lineup after the trade deadline. Then LaVine tested positive for COVID-19 and missed three weeks, and the team struggled to stay afloat without him.

This last charge at least can give the Bulls confidence in the fit of their roster heading into next season, even if they do not reach the postseason.

“We have three really good individuals that can play some basketball,” forward Thad Young said. “I love playing with those guys, and I think they’re going to continue to be great going forward. Obviously Zach and Vooch are our prime guys, but Coby (White) is coming along the way and Pat (Williams) is getting better each and every game.

“We have some really good pieces. Going forward, we just have to continue to build on what we’re doing.”

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