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Exploring Potential Play-In Paths for the Bulls.

As the 2023-24 NBA season draws to a close, the Bulls are entrenched in a battle for a playoff berth. With a current record of 34-38 as of March 26th, Chicago finds itself in the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. It seems improbable for the Bulls to overtake the seventh and eighth-seeded Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, who stand at 39-32 and 39-33, respectively.

However, there’s a slim chance that the 10th-seeded Atlanta Hawks (presently 32-39) might climb to ninth, especially with star guard Trae Young expected to return before the season’s end. Considering the 11th seed Brooklyn Nets are lagging at 27-45, the Bulls would need a major collapse to miss the Play-In tournament.

With their position almost certain, the Bulls are poised to either host the 10th-seeded team on April 17th or play as the 10th seed for the second consecutive season. It’s highly probable that they’ll face the Hawks, against whom they’ve triumphed twice this season, even with Young in the lineup. However, if Young returns from his hand injury, he might not be at full strength. The two teams are set to clash again on April 1st.

Should the Bulls secure victory in the 9/10 matchup, they would then face the loser of the 7/8 matchup away. Fortunately, Chicago has performed well against both the Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers this season. They split their series with Miami 2-2, with the first two games featuring Zach LaVine and the latter two not.

A potential rematch with Miami holds significant stakes, as last season’s Play-In encounter saw Chicago leading until Miami rallied late for a 102-91 victory. Miami eventually progressed through the playoffs, reaching the Finals. With Jimmy Butler’s renowned playoff prowess and Chicago missing a key scorer in LaVine, a matchup against Miami could spell trouble for the Bulls.

On the other hand, Chicago won two out of three games against Philadelphia this season. While Joel Embiid hasn’t returned yet, there’s speculation that he might before the season’s end. However, even if he returns, he might still be working on his conditioning after an extended absence. Nonetheless, Embiid’s potential comeback could pose a significant challenge to Chicago’s postseason aspirations.

If the Bulls manage to overcome Miami or Philadelphia, they would enter the playoffs as the eighth seed, facing the Boston Celtics in the first round. However, Chicago has struggled against Boston this season, losing all three matchups, including one where Boston was missing key players.

The Celtics, boasting a top-tier offense and defense, have been formidable at home, making them formidable opponents. In a playoff series against Boston, the Bulls would likely face an uphill battle, unless unforeseen circumstances disrupt Boston’s dominance.

While the Bulls are currently locked into the Play-In tournament, their best-case scenario involves avoiding a sweep against Boston in a 1/8 matchup. Despite a challenging start to the season, Chicago has shown improvement, going 29-24 since their rough beginning. With a mix of tough contenders and weaker teams left on their schedule, finishing the season above .500 would provide Chicago with momentum heading into the Play-In.

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