Scoreboard Watching: The Bulls Playoff Odds (And Hope for a Top-4 Pick) Are Dwindling

Welcome to the final week of the regular season. Beer is in the fridge, Play-in Tournament hope is around the corner, and tissues for inevitable tears of disappointment are over there.

The Chicago Bulls have dug themselves a pretty massive hole since the last time we checked in on the play-in race a little less than a month ago – largely because of the absence of All-Star Zach LaVine. After losing to the Orlando Magic on April 14th, LaVine was sent into the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols and went on to miss the team’s next 11 games. The Bulls went 4-7 over that stretch, which included a four-game losing streak before his return against the Charlotte Hornets last Thursday.

The Washington Wizards were able to use that time to fly past the Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings. Dating back to LaVine’s absence, the Wizards have gone 12-3 and have even passed the Indiana Pacers to move into the No. 9 seed overall. With a comfortable 3.0 game lead over Chicago right now – and matchups against the Hawks (x2), Cavaliers, and Hornets left –  attention has turned to Indiana. The Pacers have experienced some locker room tension in recent weeks, and it has led to the team losing five of their last seven games. Indiana is now 2.5 games ahead of Chicago with games against the Cavaliers, 76ers, Bucks, Lakers, and Raptors remaining.

East Standings:

(1) 76ers – 47-21
(2) Nets – 44-24
(3) Bucks – 43-24
(4) Knicks – 38-30
(5) Hawks – 37-31
(6) Heat – 37-31
(7) Celtics – 35-33 (12.0 GB)
(8) Hornets – 33-35 (14.0 GB)
(9) Wizards – 32-36 (15.0 GB)
(10) Pacers – 31-36 (15.5 GB)
(11) Bulls – 29-39 (18.0 GB)
(12) Raptors – 27-41 (20.0 GB)
(13) Magic – 21-47
(14) Cavaliers – 21-47
(15) Pistons – 20-49

To overcome a 2.5-game hole with just 4.0 games left is easier said than done. To the Bulls credit, they have made things far more interesting with three-straight victories, but their schedule is just as tough as the Pacers. This final week will include two battles with the Nets, one with the Bucks, and one the Toronto Raptors. One would hope that teams like the Nets and Bucks might consider resting their star talent with the playoffs around the corner, but considering only a half game separates the two teams from the No. 2 seed at the moment, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls could be so lucky. And, unfortunately, luck is exactly what they need to keep this season rolling.

Even if the Bulls continue to pull off a heroic late-season win streak, they don’t control their own destiny. Billy Donovan’s crew lost that privilege earlier this season with losses to the Magic and Cavaliers. Since the Bulls do hold the tie-breaker between the two teams (won season series), they would need to at least go 3-1 this week while the Pacers finish 1-4. Again, with the Pacers tough schedule, this doesn’t necessarily feel out of the question, but it also isn’t something you want to bank on. Likewise, it’s hard to bank on the Bulls stealing at least two of the three games against the Nets and Bucks.

According to the Basketball-Reference Playoff Probabilities Report, the Bulls have a 6.5 percent chance at finishing in the 10th spot. That number did go up roughly 4.0 percent after their wins against the Celtics and Pistons, but I think we all know those are still crappy odds. And, with that in mind, it’s hard not to think about the draft lottery.

The Bulls will keep their first-round pick ONLY if it falls within the Top-4. Before their three-game winning streak, Chicago had a 31.9 percent chance to land a top-4 pick, per Tankathon. The odds now sit at 26.3 percent with a chance to drop even lower. The Sacramento Kings are just 1.0 game behind the Bulls in the league standings, while the New Orleans Pelicans (who are now without Zion Williamson) are just 2.0 games behind. If those teams keep losing, and the Bulls keep doing the opposite, Arturas Karnisovas will run the risk of watching his chances at a top-4 pick go from 26.3 percent to 20.3 percent or 13.9 percent. Not great. Tough spot.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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