Entering Wednesday’s road bout with Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, the Chicago Bulls remain right on the cusp of reentering the playoff race. However, their grip on that particular rope seems tenuous at best.
Right now, DeMar DeRozan and Co. are a game and a half behind the 10th place Washington Wizards for the final spot in the East’s play-in tourney — and three full games outside of the top eight seeds. And with just 17 games remaining, they face a schedule that rates as the third most difficult in the conference and the 10th hardest league-wide, per PlayoffStatus.com.
Consequently, the team finds itself in a strange spot where its postseason goals are concerned. Wrote NBC Sports Chicago‘s KC Johnson: “As of Monday afternoon, the Chicago Bulls held better odds to win the NBA draft lottery at 8.3% than they did to make the playoffs at 6%.”
At this point, though — particularly given those odds — the Bulls have likely missed their chance to make a real pivot into tank mode.
The Pain of the Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic Trade Is Real
Thanks to Arturas Karnisovas’ acquisition of Nikola Vucevic two years ago, breaking the odds in the draft lottery is the Bulls’ only avenue toward keeping their pick, as the team still owes a top-four-protected first-rounder to the Orlando Magic.
So, a successful tank for draft position would require a major stroke of luck on the Bulls’ part. Even if they’re just shooting to stay in that top four, the odds are running 68.1% against Chicago having their ping pong ball drawn as of this writing.
For frame of reference, a whopping nine and a half games seperate the Bulls from the Charlotte Hornets, who currently have the fourth-best lotto odds as a near 50/50 shot to remain in the top four.
Of course, Johnson wasn’t necessarily advocating for a tank. Rather, he was pointing out how problematic the team’s standing in the East hierarchy has actually become. Indeed, Karnisovas’ stated goal of getting to the postseason is feeling more and more like a pipe dream as the days go by. But there’s not a really a Plan B to go to at this point, thanks to the Vooch deal.
It’s an incredible spot to be in — and in the worst possible way — after the Bulls held onto the No. 1 spot in the conference for large swaths of 2021-22.
Wrote Johnson: “What a difference a year makes — on multiple levels.”
Returning Bull Not Yet Ready to Play
Before Justin Lewis fell prey to an ACL tear during a private workout in August, the undrafted rookie was earmarked for a two-way spot with the Bulls and an opportunity to compete for back-end bench minutes. Seven months later, he’s eyeing that opportunity again, having officially re-signed with Chicago on Tuesday.
The 20-year-old still has some physical hurdles to clear, however. Here’s the latest, via the Daily Herald’s Mike McGraw:
“Justin Lewis was on the court shooting at Bulls practice today, but he’s not ready to play, still recovering from knee surgery. Maybe we’ll see him at summer league.”
During his sophomore year at Marquette in 2021-22, the 6-foot-7 Lewis averaged 16.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 44.0% from the floor and 34.5% from long range.