Chicago Bulls

NBA Playoff Update: Breaking Down Bulls' Play-In Path With Regular Season Nearing End

Breaking down Bulls' play-in path with four games to go originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Anyone got a rabbit's foot handy? A bushel of four-leaf clovers?

If the Bulls want to push for a play-in tournament berth, they're going to need some help in their final four games.

The Bulls begin their stretch run trailing the 10th-place Wizards by 2.5 games for the last play-in spot, the Pacers by three games for ninth, and the Hornets by four games for eighth.

That means -- mathematically speaking -- there's a chance. But it will require the 29-39 Bulls to go either 3-1 or 4-0 against the Nets, Raptors, Nets (again) and Bucks to close the campaign, beginning Tuesday when Brooklyn comes to town. Yes, that's three of the Bulls' final four regular-season games against the second and third seeds in the East.

"You can’t look at what they can do to help you," LaVine said of the teams with whom the Bulls are vying for position after Tuesday's shootaround. "We’re the ones that put ourselves in this predicament. We understand that. We just have to control what we can. If we go out there and worry about them and don’t take care of our job, then this is all for naught."

The Bulls can't afford to scoreboard watch too much, but fans can. Here is where the schedules of those three aforementioned teams stand with just under a week left in the regular season.

Washington Wizards

Record: 32-37, 10th in East

Where they stand: The Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the association, having won 15 of their last 20 games. Bradley Beal missed the team's 125-124 loss to the Hawks on Monday with a hamstring strain, and has already been ruled out for Wednesday's rematch, but a cushy final two contests and Russell Westbrook's recent run of brilliance make making up those 2.5 games a tall task.

Who they face: @ Hawks (May 12); vs. Cavaliers (May 14); vs. Hornets (May 16)

What needs to happen: If the Bulls go 4-0, they catch the Wizards if they go 1-2 or worse; if the Bulls go 3-1, they catch the Wizards only if they go winless in their final three games.

Head-to-head tiebreak: Bulls

Indiana Pacers

Record: 32-36, 9th in East

Where they stand: The Pacers have been uneven all season and are now fighting through a firestorm of negative reports surrounding head coach Nate Bjorkgren. But they got a necessary 111-102 win over a shorthanded, 21-win Cavaliers team on Monday to leapfrog the Wizards and stay three games clear of the Bulls with a tough stretch ahead.

Who they face: vs. 76ers (May 11); vs. Bucks (May 13); vs. Lakers (May 15); @ Raptors (May 16)

What needs to happen: If the Bulls go 4-0, they catch the Pacers if they go 1-3 or worse; if the Bulls go 3-1, they catch the Pacers only if they go winless in their final four games.

Head-to-head tiebreak: Bulls

Charlotte Hornets

Record: 33-35, 8th in East

Where they stand: Shorthanded, for one. The Hornets are 8-12 since Gordon Hayward went down with a right foot sprain in early April. Charlotte has also played without Miles Bridges (health and safety protocols) and Devonte' Graham (knee) for its last four games, though Graham is questionable for Tuesday's game against the Nuggets.

Who they face: vs. Nuggets (May 11); vs. Clippers (May 13); @ Knicks (May 15); @ Wizards (May 16)

What needs to happen: This one is simple. The Bulls need to go undefeated in their final four games, and the Hornets need to go winless in theirs, to catch them.

Head-to-head tiebreak: Bulls

It's a lot, to say the least. There's a reason Basketball Reference pegs the Bulls with just a 4.6 percent chance of sneaking into the play-in as of this writing. Even with the Pacers and Hornets' grueling remaining schedules, the Bulls going 3-1 or 4-0 against their slate is a daunting proposition. The Bulls won their first two meetings with the Raptors (who have already been eliminated from contention) this season, but have dropped two to the Bucks; and though they did defeat the Nets 115-107 in early April, Kyrie Irving was the only head of Brooklyn's Big Three to play -- James Harden remains out for Tuesday's game, but Kevin Durant is set to suit up.

Until officially eliminated, though, it's evident the Bulls will continue the push. They're 3-0 since LaVine returned from his bout with COVID-19 and Nikola Vučević returned from a hip ailment, a stretch has featured improved team defense, sublime offensive contributions from LaVine, Vučević and Coby White, and, of course, shorthanded competition. Its legitimacy will soon be tested.

"Every one, including this one tonight (against Nets) and going forward, it’s going to be important," LaVine said. "You got a win-now situation.”

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