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The Chicago Bulls are not a good basketball team right now.
The NBA All-Star Game was on February 20. At the time, the Bulls were 38-21, the top seed in the East. The injuries began to weigh on the team, but even after a few losses, they were sitting pretty in the fourth seed on Monday. There was even hope that the third, or even second, playoff seed was within reach.
Now they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games, including Friday’s 129-102 blowout loss in Phoenix. Their losing streak stands at three games and they just went through a separate five-game losing streak. Things are looking extremely grim as the playoff outlook has gone from home court advantage, to walking a dangerous path towards missing the playoffs all together.
Since the All-Star Break, the Bulls have a -7.2 net rating, the equivalent of a 27-win team. They can’t defend and their scoring has fallen off a cliff. They haven’t been able to adjust to the way teams are game planning them. The morale is down. Body language is uninspiring. It’s almost not believable that they’ve already banked 41 wins.
Thankfully they have, because the Bulls cushion on avoiding the play-in tournament is down to two games. They have a one game lead over the Cavs for the No. 6 seed and two games over the Raptors for 7th.
ESPN’s 538 projects the Bulls, Raptors and Cavs to all finish the season with 46 wins. They play both Cavs and Raptors next week and those games should be considered playoff games. Losses wouldn’t only send them tumbling down the standings, but they’d lose out on potential head-to-head record for tiebreakers.
Before the season, a play-in berth might have been progress, but given the high level we’ve seen the Bulls reach, it should now be considered be a death sentence.
Here’s the worst case scenario:
The top two seeds in the play in face each other for the No. 7 seed: which would end up being against the Nets in Chicago. Kyrie Irving would be allowed to play. I know the Bulls are 2-1 against the Nets so far this year, but I would not feel confident in this one.
Assuming they lose to the Nets, Bulls would have one shot to make the playoffs against the winner of Hawks (13th in net rating since All-Star) and Hornets (6th in net since the break) for the chance to secure the 8th seed.
It would be a shame for things to spiral like this given this has been the best, most fun season the Bulls have had in years. They had an amazing 59-game sample of being an elite team, but in 23 games, it could all fall apart. This should be the time when everything is beginning to crystalize, but instead, they’re spiraling.
Even if this is unlikely, it’s becoming a greater possibility with every loss. The Bulls could legitimately fall from first place at the All-Star Break to missing the playoffs all together.
Here’s to getting healthy and getting back on track.
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