The Bulls’ regular season has ended and the team will now head to Toronto to face the Raptors in a play-in game between the ninth and 10th seeds on Wednesday night.
So why aren’t we more excited?
Here’s how the whole thing works, if you’re unfamiliar.
Beat Toronto and the Bulls will advance to face the loser of Tuesday’s 7/8 seed game between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. That game will take place on Friday night and will also be on the road.
If the Bulls win that game, they’ll earn a spot in the actual NBA playoffs against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
Lose either night and the Bulls will head home to find every good luck charm available and hope they somehow pull a top-four pick in the draft that won’t have to be sent to Orlando. Their current odds of landing in the top four are 8 percent while their odds of securing No. 1 (and Victor Wembayana) are 1.7 percent.
The NBA’s play-in concept is only in its four years of existence. Originally conceived during the pandemic “bubble” run, it’s been a way for the NBA to add a couple of high-leverage games for its television partners and generate some talk on social platforms.
I haven’t minded the play-in tourney the first few seasons as a non-partisan observer. A Lakers-Warriors matchup in 2021 helped. So did fun two-win runs by the Pelicans and Hawks in 2022.
But now that the Bulls are involved?
I’ve reverted to being a skeptic.
Part of it is undoubtedly the season the Bulls just had. The team’s 40-42 record is perfectly emblematic of their inconsistent nature and it’s been hard to fully invest in a team incapable of sustaining any success past four or five days.
The other part is just knowing that there’s no real prize beyond the thrill of two road victories. Win both games and the Bulls’ reward is to face a 58-24 Bucks team that dispatched them in five games last spring and currently rates as the odds-on favorite to win the NBA title.
Getting in would also pull the Bulls out of the draft lottery and eliminate any chance — however small — that they get to select a potential difference-maker in June. (The Bulls also do not currently own a pick in the second round.)
Look, there are other sports where punching a playoff ticket opens up some possibilities of a longer run. MLB, NHL and college basketball come to mind.
Only three No. 8 seeds have knocked off a No. 1 seed in the seven-game format and one of those was in 2012 when Derrick Rose blew out his knee in Game 1 against the 76ers.
Maybe NBA commissioner Adam Silver realizes that it doesn’t matter who the seventh and eighth-seeds are when you’re throwing them against the top teams in a lopsided league and that you may as well generate some good vibes in four markets about to be eliminated.
He should just realize there’s a limit on those good feelings.
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The Week Ahead
• The 4-4 Cubs get the Mariners for three at home starting tonight before heading west to face the Dodgers over the weekend.
• The 4-6 Sox are in Minnesota for three starting this afternoon and return home for a homestand against Baltimore on Friday.
• The Blackhawks head into their final week tied with Columbus for the league’s worst record. The team gets Minnesota at the United Center tonight, a trip to Pittsburgh on Tuesday and a season finale against Philadelphia on Thursday that could be the last time we ever see Jonathan Toews in a Hawks sweater.
• The Red Stars are still awaiting word on the status of star Mallory Swanson, who tore the patella tendon in her left knee on Saturday. Though Swanson has been replaced on the USWNT roster, three Red Stars — Alyssa Naher, Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger — will be in St. Louis for a friendly against Ireland on Tuesday.
• The Fire attempt to extend its unbeaten streak to five matches when it hosts Philadelphia at Soldier Field on Saturday.
Braxton Jones at CHGO!
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