NBA Playoffs: Bulls confident in chances despite hard schedule

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K.C. Johnson
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Bulls confident in play-in chances despite hard schedule originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bulls finish their fourth two-game series against the same opponent on Monday in Miami, a new schedule wrinkle instituted because of the unique nature to this season played during a pandemic.

Some coaches and players have stated their preference to see the format stick. Coby White said he doesn't care.

"I really don’t have a preference," he said. "I’m just going out here to hoop. That’s my job."

He and the Bulls will need to do their jobs well against the Heat to avoid finishing 0-2 for the first time in the scenario. In late December, they swept the Wizards, granting them the tiebreaker over a play-in competitor; in early February, they later split separate series with the Knicks and Magic.

This final two-game set comes at a crucial time as, after Saturday's 106-101 defeat, the Bulls now find themselves tied with the Raptors (against whom they also own the tiebreaker) for 11th in the East, the last spot out of the play-in.

Monday's rematch with the Heat features the start of seven straight games against teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Ten of the Bulls' final 12 opponents are currently in the top eight, and one other is against the Raptors. A May 9 game against the Pistons is the only one against a team not in contention.

Date

Team

Record

Eastern Conference Rank

April 26

@ Heat

32-29

7th

April 28

@ Knicks

34-27

4th

April 30

vs. Bucks

37-22

3rd

May 1

@ Hawks

33-27

5th

May 3

vs. 76ers

39-21

2nd

May 6

@ Hornets

30-30

8th

May 7

vs. Celtics

32-29

6th

May 9

@ Pistons

18-43

15th

May 11

vs. Nets

41-20

1st

May 13

vs. Raptors

25-35

12th

May 15

@ Nets

41-20

1st

May 16

vs. Bucks

37-22

3rd

According to Basketball Reference, that's the second most difficult remaining schedule in the East (behind the Raptors'), and fourth-hardest in the NBA. As of Sunday, the Bulls own an 8-26 record against teams with records currently at or above .500.

"Of course we talk about it. That’s our goal. We want to have a chance to play in the postseason," White said. "You just got to come ready to compete."

Slow starts have thwarted two of the last three games, both losses, to the Cavaliers and Heat, respectively. The Bulls have failed to score 20 points in the first quarter both times, creating large deficits.

Worse, the Bulls will be without leading scorer Zach LaVine for at least the next two games and likely longer. LaVine remains in the league's health and safety protocols.

"There’s no need to panic. I think we have the type of team that we can compete with anybody in the NBA. It’s just up to us whether we want to play hard and do the things we need to do to finish the season strong. I personally think that we can make the push," Denzel Valentine said. "I think we have a very talented team that deserves to be in the playoffs. It’s just up to us."

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