As the Chicago Bulls stumbled out of the gate after All-Star Weekend, the goal became simple: Stay out of the Play-In Tournament. Now, with only six games left in the regular season, their goal is in sight.
While the team has not yet clinched a top-6 seed, they are on their way, thanks to a couple of clutch wins and a timely slippage from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Chicago is currently tied with the Raptors at 43 victories, but they remain one spot ahead in the 5th seed due to their 3-1 record over the Raptors this season. As for Cleveland, over whom the Bulls also hold the tiebreaker advantage, they have dropped four of their last five games and sit 2.0 full contests behind both Chicago and Toronto.
The Cavs string of losses has potentially created a significant enough cushion for both the Bulls and Raptors to lock in the final two sure-fire playoff spots. Indeed, Chicago’s chance at a top-6 seed has gone up to 88.8 percent, according to Basketball-Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report. The number sat at 74.1 percent earlier this week.
So … Chicago’s “magic number” currently rests at two Cavaliers losses or three Bulls wins. In other words, if Chicago wins half of their remaining games, they are locked into a top-6 seed. However, if Chicago were to only win two of six contests, Cleveland could technically push them into the Play-In Tournament by finishing the season 5-1.
To be sure, with the way this team has played recently, winning three of the remaining six games will not come easy. Tankathon lists Chicago as having the 2nd-toughest strength of schedule in the NBA with the Clippers, Heat, Bucks, Celtics, Hornets, and Timberwolves left on the board. All are teams currently in the Playoff or Play-In picture, but both the Clippers, Hornets, and Timberwolves are at least squads with a worse record than the Bulls. While Chicago has struggled mightily as of late, this is still a team that has done a pretty decent job taking care of those below them in the league standings this year.
If the Bulls fail to take care of business, though, they will still have quite the heavy security blanket. A Cavaliers team winning five of the next six games isn’t out of the question, but it will be extremely tough with both starting frontcourt players (Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen) on the injury report. Cleveland lost to the Mavericks on Wednesday night, and they now have the Hawks, Knicks, 76ers, Magic, Nets, and Bucks left on the schedule. Unless teams rest their star players – which feels a bit unlikely in the middle of a tight seeding race – it should be difficult for the Cavs to reach the necessary five wins.
Again, we can never say never in today’s NBA, but the Bulls are as well-positioned as they have been in recent weeks to secure their first playoff series since the 2016-17 season. The bigger question right now is whether or not they will finish ahead of or behind the Raptors, who have won five of their last six games.
Toronto has only the 26th-most difficult remaining schedule, and Basketball-Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report seems to believe that will be enough to steal the 5th seed from Chicago (the Bulls currently have a 51.1 percent chance to finish 6th). We’ll see.
FWIW: Here are some other storylines to watch in tonight’s games:
Possible NBA Playoffs scenarios for today ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/45K01bpHHT
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) March 31, 2022