Scoreboard Watching: The Battle for a Play-In Tournament Spot is Still Alive and Well

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Scoreboard Watching: The Battle for a Play-In Tournament Spot is Still Alive and Well

Chicago Bulls

As the season begins to wind down, and the Bulls are still very much in the mix for some postseason basketball (thanks to a crappy Eastern Conference), it’s about time we keep a closer eye on the standings.

East Standings:

(1) 76ers – 37-17
(2) Nets – 37-17
(3) Bucks – 33-20
(4) Hawks – 30-25
(5) Celtics – 29-26
(6) Heat – 28-26
(7) Hornets – 27-26 (9.5 GB)
(8) Knicks – 28-27 (9.5 GB)
(9) Pacers – 25-28 (11.5 GB)
(10) Bulls – 22-31 (14.5 GB)
(11) Raptors – 21-34 (16.5 GB)
(12) Wizards – 20-33 (16.5 GB)
(13) Cavaliers – 19-34
(14) Magic – 17-37
(15) Pistons – 16-38

The bolded section feels especially susceptible to change over the next couple of weeks, and the Bulls are stationed not-so-comfortably in the thick of things. They have already partially failed to take advantage of their “easier” stretch of the second-half schedule, adding a three-game losing streak to the board with losses to the Hawks, Timberwolves, and Grizzlies. Fortunately, they did take care of business against the two teams that sit one spot in front of them and one spot behind them in the standings last week, which has helped them avoid any jump in the wrong direction.

Also working in the Bulls benefit is the Raptors remaining strength of schedule. According to Tankathon, Toronto has the 5th-hardest remaining regular-season slate compared to the Bulls’ 10th hardest SOS. The team has also recently shown a pretty interesting lack of urgency to slide into the play-in tournament, resting Kyle Lowry in what will now be back-to-back games and resting Pascal Siakam the other night against Cleveland. They have lost four of their last five games.

At the same time, maybe some additional rest is the smart thing to do. The team is only 2.0 games back of the Bulls, and maybe the more well-rested squad can make a better final push. If they are secretly in tank mode, however, the Bulls still aren’t safe from someone stealing their spot. The Washington Wizards have crept into the picture by winning three of their last four games. They are also now only 2.0 games back of Chicago with the 3rd-easiest remaining schedule in play. The next seven games for them are also all against opponents who sit under .500, soooo … watch out.

While the Bulls’ ability to stay in 10th during this three-game losing streak relieves some of the pain, they still missed a pretty gigantic opportunity to make up precious ground. Indiana has gotten in a groove as of late (have won three of last four), and their immediate upcoming schedule could help vault them into the 8 seed. The Rockets, Jazz, Hawks, Spurs, Thunder, Pistons, and Magic make up the next seven games, and it’s not crazy to think they could walk out of there with six wins.

With that being the case, the Bulls could actually find themselves chasing the Knicks before they know it. New York has the 6th-toughest remaining schedule, and they play a surging Pelicans team twice over the next three games with Luka Doncic sandwiched in between.

The most important thing is, ultimately, what the Bulls do over their own next chunk of games. Avoiding any more extended losing streaks is pivotal to stay within arms reach of a play-in tournament berth.

Cracking the top-6? Eh, that’s a different (unlikely) story …

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Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.