Saturday, March 2, 2024

3 Things At Stake In Bulls’ Third In-Season Tournament Game


The Chicago Bulls will visit the Toronto Raptors at 6:30 PM Central time to seek their first tournament victory after dropping the first two group play meetings. Chicago’s two home losses thus far in the group stage have backed them into a corner that’ll be difficult to find their way out of, needing two road wins against the Raptors and then the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics to stay in contention. They likely will not win their group, but with a single Wild Card slot per conference, a 2-2 record could sneak in. A loss tonight could have ramifications that echo throughout the organization, and the waves could make major splashes for Chicago’s future.

3. Eliminated From The Play-In Tournament

First and foremost, a loss tonight means Chicago will be eliminated from the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament. They’ll play the fourth and final game in Boston, but it will be rendered useless on their end as three losses will make it impossible to reach the second stage. The three division leaders have two wins already, and Miami currently holds the Wild Card spot with two wins. A loss today would equate to a 1-3 record at best in group play for Chicago. The 2-0 East Group C leading Celtics will play the Orlando Magic this afternoon in a game that will likely determine the group’s victor and leave the other scraping for the lone Wild Card ticket.

2. Chasing The Wrong Kind Of History

With a loss tonight, Chicago could fall to 5-12, or a 29.4% winning clip through their first 17 outings. This would be their worst mark through this portion of the season since 2018 when they began 4-13, fired Fred Hoiberg after 24 games, and went on to finish 22-60.

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They’re currently 5.5-point underdogs for tonight’s matchup but did win the first meeting of the year between these two via a 104-103 overtime win. DeMar DeRozan had a team-high 33-point night in the first matchup, and Alex Caruso was critical down the stretch in the comeback win. Both teams shot 25% or worse from three-point land and under 47% from the field. It was a typical Eastern Conference defensive bout between the rivals, and a similar blueprint is expected tonight.

1. Billy Donovan’s Job

Should the Bulls lose tonight, they might be looking for a new head coach tomorrow morning. With the slowest start to a season in five years and a disgruntled star at the helm who’s publicly ripped Donovan as a coach, it’s not outside the scope of reality to see him canned if this game is as embarrassing as other losses have been in 2023. There were reports that last Saturday’s matchup with Miami would’ve been Donovan’s final game as Chicago’s coach if they hadn’t miraculously erased a 22-1 deficit to beat the Heat.

If history indicates, Hoiberg was in a nearly identical situation in 2018 and was relieved of his duties after a 5-19 start to the year. A 5-12 record, an early elimination from In-Season Tournament contention, and swirling reports of the locker room’s troubles could show the fourth-year Bulls’ head coach the door.

Tonight’s Eastern Conference rematch from the 2022-23 Play-In game will determine not only whose hopes remain alive in In-Season Tournament play but could also leave the Bulls without a head coach and staring down a historically horrific season. Can they create momentum tonight and turn around the sluggish start to 2023?

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