Clinching the Play-In, the Unpredictable Hawks, Superstar LaVine, and Other Bulls Bullets
I think it’s a law that I must share One Shining Moment the morning after the National Championship.
- Let me preface this with the following: Yes, I fully recognize that clinching a Play-In Tournament berth is pretty anticlimactic. The idea coming into this season was that the Chicago Bulls, if anything, would remain a top-6 team in the Eastern Conference. Their inability to even contend for that seed should be deemed a significant failure. And there is nothing they can do – aside from making the playoffs and shockingly upsetting the Bucks or Celtics in the first round – to change that.
- With that being said, I’ve been left no choice but to recalibrate my expectations for this team. And making the Play-In Tournament is at least better than not making the Play-In Tournament, specifically when the goal is to make the Play-In Tournament. Does that make sense? Anyone who reads consistently knows that I was leaning pretty heavily toward throwing in the towel at the trade deadline and attempting to keep this season’s top-4 protected first-round pick. The Bulls went on to choose the opposite direction and push for the Play-In. This leaves me no choice but to evaluate their ability to successfully pull this off. And, to their credit, they’re on the verge of doing that.
- Indeed, a win tonight OR an Orlando loss will secure a Play-In seed for the Bulls. There are a lot of scenarios that can take place in the East this evening, and the NBA mapped those out here:
- Even if the Bulls do clinch a Play-In spot, however, their exact seed is still subject to change. Toronto, Atlanta, and Chicago all have the potential to flip-flop places throughout the week. I went ahead and mapped out some of what the craziness might look like in the post here. I’m hoping that helps clear things up a bit.
- Have you ever been at a party or out with friends and there was a platter of sushi? You didn’t order it and therefore have no clue exactly which roll is which. Fortunately, most of the time, you’ll pop one of those suckers in your mouth and it’ll go down smoothly. But there is also the off chance the opposite happens and you snatch the one with “firecracker” in the name. Yeah, so that’s how I feel about the Atlanta Hawks.
- The majority of the time, I feel completely fine for the Bulls heading into this matchup. While there is no doubt that Atlanta has a talented roster, they have repeatedly failed to reach their potential and the Bulls have seemingly had their number over the past two years. For example, the last time these two played Chicago cruised to a 111-100 win. Six players scored in double figures against the Hawks’ 22nd-ranked defense and they forced Trae Young and Co. into 18 turnovers.
- But then there are times like Dec. 21 and Jan. 23. Trae Young can always explode for a 34-point effort as he did back in December, while a random role player like Bogdan Bogdanovic could always drop 28 off the bench as he did in January. Both games had to come down to a buzzer-beater (AJ Griffin in the first game and Ayo Dosunmu in the second). So what kind of game are we going to get tonight?
- For what it’s worth, the Bulls have played a lot better basketball than the Hawks since the All-Star break. Chicago has put together the 2nd-best net rating over their last 19 games, while the Hawks have sat just league-average. Likewise, the Bulls have held opponents to the fewest points in the paint per game, whereas the Hawks have allowed the second-most per game. We’ve seen a similar trend in opponent fastbreak scoring, too. The Bulls have held teams to the fewest fastbreak points and have averaged the 9th-most. The Hawks have given up the most and have averaged just the 21st-most.
- Again, none of this is to say the Bulls should take the Hawks lightly. They shouldn’t. But the Bulls have at least been a far more complete basketball team as of late, particularly on the defensive end of the ball. Let’s hope that they can prove exactly that later tonight.
- Let’s also hope Zach LaVine can continue to play like a superstar! I put together a little thread yesterday showing some of his crunch-time work against the Grizzlies. Late-game decision-making was a significant problem for him earlier in the year, but it appears as if something has clicked.
- CHGO’s Will Gottlieb also put together a nice story on LaVine’s ball fake. This new signature move is a big reason why he’s been so dominant driving to the rim in recent weeks.
- Also, while we’re on that topic, let me remind you that I wrote a post on LaVine’s driving skills last week. The efficiency with which he’s scoring is truly absurd.
- All eyes are on the Mavericks with just a few games left. Will they push for the Play-In or shutdown Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in hopes of keeping their pick? Keep in mind that the Bulls play the Mavs after the Hawks and Bucks in their second-to-last game of the regular season.
- I’m sure this is a good listen …
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- Are you hoping Jalen Carter falls into the Bears’ lap?
- Obviously, the Bears should have the Blackhawks in the war room later this month.