With 12 games remaining in the regular season, a stretch considered one of the toughest of any Eastern Conference team, the Chicago Bulls are condemned to swimming or be prepared to drown come playoffs.
After a hot start to the season that garnered MVP Buzz for DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls have started to gradually drift down in the standings. Right now, they sit in fifth place in the East with a 41-29 record, just one game ahead of Cleveland and Toronto, the latter of which currently sits in a double-elimination play-in spot.
Could They Fall in the Play-In Spot?
Avid supporters of the 6-time Champions would be disappointed to see the team fall to a play-in situation that could possibly see them bumped from the playoffs without even a seven-game series. But where things currently stand, that does not seem so far-fetched.
The Bulls have posted just a 2-8 record in their last ten games, while Toronto has been flying up the standings, going 6-4 in their last ten. The one saving grace for Chicago has been the lackluster play of Cleveland in that stretch, who have managed just a 5-5 record.
Looking ahead, there is reason to believe Bulls fans should be concerned. Chicago currently faces the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA, while Cleveland and Toronto face much easier slates (23rd and 18th in difficulty, respectively).
In fact, their 14th rank in net rating puts them in a clump with the rest of the East’s play-in teams – the Hawks, Hornets, and Nets. Perhaps the Bulls aren’t contenders at all, merely a play-in team.
At some point soon, the Bulls will have to face the reality that the Play-In is a real possibility. Once they do, they may want to think about dropping to eighth, rather than seventh.
The NBA Standings after Saturday Night!— NBA (@NBA) March 20, 2022
➡ Teams ranked 7-10 will compete in the Play-In Tournament to secure the final two spots for each conference in the #NBAPlayoffs presented by Google Pixel. pic.twitter.com/MGNP6BaHLe
The Brooklyn Nets Might Become Their Opponent
In seventh place, they would likely host the Brooklyn Nets, having to face both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Should they drop all the way to eighth, the Bulls would travel to Brooklyn where, due to Kyrie Irving’s bizarrely strong conviction and lack of medical expertise, his unvaccinated status prevents him from playing, making for an easier matchup for the Bulls.
Funnily enough, the Bulls have only beaten the Nets in games where Irving did not play, losing the one contest in which he did play.
There are a lot of reasons to be concerned for the Bulls. A play-in berth would certainly be a disappointment for fans after such a strong start. But really, it seems like their start just was not as strong as their record made us believe.
50 PIECE.— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 16, 2022
Kyrie Irving is RIDICULOUS 🔥 pic.twitter.com/nT18Cto5YZ
Just How Did The Bulls Lose Steam?
Granted, a key factor in the Bulls’ slide has been injuries, but as guard Lonzo Ball is still without a certain date for return, it is unlikely that things will change soon, but Alex Caruso is a big boost defensively, as his return from injury has proven of late.
Looking back on the Bulls’ hot start, the signs may have always been there that things were too good to be true. Though the team was considered a contender to win the East, they have thus far posted just a 7-13 record against the remainder of the top eight teams in the conference.
Take a look at the Bulls’ record against the top three teams in both conferences this season and one will be even more concerned. Brace yourself. 0-15.
The Bulls are 0-15 vs the top 3 teams both conferences this season. pic.twitter.com/3BDfRqemu4— StatMuse (@statmuse) March 19, 2022
Pretenders, They Turn Out to Be
In hindsight, they never were contenders, they just rode a hot start and an easy schedule to the top. Chicago is currently 14th in the league in net rating, below both Cleveland and Toronto. 14th is a playoff spot, sure, but not a contender’s spot.
Baby steps normally would be applauded in October or November, as Coach Billy Donovan did describe the team as work in progress, and the Bulls seemed believable over the course of the first 10 games of the season. However, at this time of the year late-March to be precise, time is not on their side. They have gone from the top seed a few months ago to sitting in the No. 5 spot and out of home-court advantage in the first round.
And from the fore-going, it appears the play-In is where the Bulls belong.