What's at stake for Monday's Bulls-Hawks matchup

What's at stake for Monday's Bulls-Hawks matchup originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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The Chicago Bulls created some semblance of breathing room with Sunday night's road victory over the Western Conference powerhouse Minnesota Timberwolves, but that doesn't mean Monday night's showdown against the Atlanta Hawks doesn't remain a big game.

The Bulls now own a 1-1/2 game lead over the Hawks in the race for the Eastern Conference's ninth seed and homecourt advantage in the first play-in game. More important, the Bulls also already own the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series, regardless of Monday's outcome.

Nevertheless, a victory would place the Bulls even more firmly in the driver's seat in their quest to avoid the scenario they traveled last season when they finished 10th and had to play two, do-or-die, play-in games on the road.

Like the Bulls, the Hawks have endured significant injuries, although Jalen Johnson is expected to return from his right ankle sprain. The forward, who is averaging 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds, hasn't played since March 18.

Trae Young, Onyeka Okongwu, AJ Griffin and Saddiq Bey remain out for the Hawks, who possess the 14th-toughest schedule remaining according to

The Bulls, who only have the 25th-toughest schedule remaining, listed Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu probable for Monday. Caruso, who sank a career-high seven 3-pointers with five steals in Sunday's victory, has been battling a sore left ankle. Dosunmu is fighting illness.

Coach Billy Donovan said the team has talked about the importance of securing homecourt advantage for at least the first play-in game, especially with the Bulls unlikely now to move up in the standings and earn the seventh or eighth seeds. Those teams don't face a do-or-die scenario in the first play-in game, with the loser facing the winner of the play-in game against the ninth and 10th seeds.

The winner of that game earns the eighth seed and a first-round playoff matchup against the Boston Celtics. The Celtics swept the three-game season series against the Bulls, a feat the Bulls are trying to match Monday night by beating the Hawks for the third straight time.