The regular season has concluded. The postseason bracket is complete.
And the 10th-seeded Chicago Bulls have their work cut out for them to secure a playoff berth.
It begins on Wednesday in Toronto, where the Bulls will face the Raptors as the No. 9 vs. No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament.
The Play-In Tournament rules, which will be fully implemented for the 2020-21 season, require the seventh through tenth seeds in each conference to compete in a four-day tournament to determine which two teams will occupy the seventh and eighth positions in their conference’s postseason bracket.
The Bulls made their Play-In Tournament debut after finishing 11th in the East in 2021 and sixth in 2022
As the lowest seed in the Play-In bracket for the East, the Bulls confront a single-elimination scenario in every game. If they lose in Toronto, their season will be over. They will be able to fly to the city of the losing team in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 semifinal game between the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat if they win (on Tuesday night).
The victor of the Heat-Hawks game will be the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference postseason bracket and will face the Celtics in the opening round. The loser will meet the victor of the Bulls-Raptors matchup for the eighth seed and the chance to face the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bulls lost the season series to the Raptors by a score of 2-1, with both defeats occurring in Toronto. The Raptors completed the season with the largest home-road record disparity in the Eastern Conference, 27-14 at home and 14-27 on the road.
If the Bulls win this game, they will face either the Hawks, with whom they divided the season series 2-2, or the Heat, whom they swept 3-0 in three regular season meetings. However, the postseason is a distinct beast.
From their 10th-place position, FiveThirtyEight assigns the Bulls a 10% probability of reaching the playoffs, slightly higher than their Western Conference 10-seed counterpart Oklahoma City Thunder (7%). Basketball Reference places the Bulls’ playoff probability at 27.1%, which is still quite low.
|Five Thirty-Eight||Basketball Reference|
Eastern Conference Play In Tournament Playoff Probability
Attempts by the Bulls to make commotion in the postseason are undoubtedly hampered by the team’s past performance. Since the concept was introduced, no No. 10 seed has won even one Play-In Tournament game, let alone consecutive victories without a loss.
In fact, DeMar DeRozan was a member of one of those teams, the 2021 Spurs, who lost to the ninth-seeded Grizzlies, paving the way for Memphis to achieve the eighth seed in the West by defeating the Warriors in the 8-9 game and clinching the 8 seed. On the opposite side of the bracket, the 10th-seeded Hornets lost to the 9th-seeded Pacers, who then went on to lose to the Wizards.
In the 9-10 game in the East last season, the Hornets again succumbed to the Hawks, while the Spurs fell to the Pelicans in the West. Both the Hawks and Pelicans won their subsequent games and qualified for the 2022 postseason.
If the Bulls were to make a similar run, their eventual playoff opponent, the Bucks, would be a familiar one. However, Milwaukee is also a team that defeated the Bulls in five games in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, as well as in each of their final two regular-season matchups. No seventh, eighth, or ninth-seeded Play-In Tournament team has won more than two games in its eventual first-round series.
However, as a sage Chicago high school basketball power forward once stated, anything is conceivable. The Bulls’ unlikely path will soon commence.