The Chicago Bulls made it to the final weekend of the regular season clinging to a chance to reach the play-in tournament, but need some outside help as well as a victory over the beat the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday afternoon to extend those hopes.
Needing to win out and get help from the opponents of the Washington Wizards, the Bulls visit the Nets on Saturday afternoon for the second meeting between the teams in five days. A repeat performance of Tuesday's loss to the Nets in Chicago simply will not do for the Bulls.
Chicago (30-40) entered Friday two games behind Washington for 10th in the Eastern Conference but it is possible the Bulls may be eliminated by opening tip Saturday. Washington (32-38) is playing host to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
If the Bulls enter Saturday still alive in the race, they still have a shot at the play-in spot by virtue of holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Washington.
The Bulls have been revived of late, going 4-1 over their past five games. The one loss was a 115-107 setback at home to the Nets on Tuesday when Chicago never led and trailed by as many as 19 before making a late run.
Zach LaVine scored 41 points against the Nets on Tuesday, then scored 24 on Thursday when the Bulls led by as many as 24 and posted a 114-102 home win over the Toronto Raptors. Lauri Markkanen hit six 3-pointers against the Raptors and added 20 points, while Coby White contributed 17 and Nikola Vucevic had 16 points with 16 rebounds.
"We don't control our own destiny, but we live another day, so to speak here," Chicago coach Billy Donovan said. "It's out of our hands. And I thought it was important that we show up and do our job as best we can."
The Bulls are 4-1 since LaVine returned from missing 11 games after recovering from a bout with COVID-19. During LaVine's absence the Bulls were 4-7, were held under 100 points four times and never scored more than 115.
Brooklyn (46-24) is assured of a top-three spot in the Eastern Conference as it began Friday one game behind the No. 1 seed Philadelphia 76ers, who were set to play host the Orlando Magic on Friday. They are one game ahead of the third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who host the Miami Heat on Saturday and visit Chicago on Sunday.
While seeding may be one priority, getting some minutes for its superstar trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving is another. Due to injuries and rest, the group has played just seven games totaling 186 minutes together this season and coach Steve Nash said he expects all of them to play Saturday.
On Tuesday, the Nets beat the Bulls in Harden's last game of an 18-game absence due to a strained right hamstring, but lost Irving to a facial contusion in the third quarter.
A night later, Harden returned against the San Antonio Spurs and produced 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in 26 minutes as a reserve in a 128-116 victory. Eight players scored in double figures for the Nets on Wednesday, and they trailed in the game only briefly.
"It's great that he's going to get at least another game in for his confidence, his reps, that rhythm that we keep talking about," Nash said of Harden. "It's really important as a player, especially going into the high intensity of the postseason where people are going to be scheming and physical and the game rises."
--Field Level Media