While it is a matter of which top-three seed in the Eastern Conference the Brooklyn Nets will wind up with, it is a matter of survival for the Chicago Bulls.
With four games remaining, the Bulls face a significant obstacle in their quest to reach the final play-in berth and they hope to take the floor with a slightly smaller deficit when they host the Nets, who clinched a playoff spot two weeks ago.
Chicago (29-39) began Monday 2 1/2 games behind the Indiana Pacers for 10th and three games behind the Washington Wizards for ninth place in the East. The Bulls could be even further behind if Indiana defeats the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday and Washington defeats the Atlanta Hawks.
Chicago seemed headed for elimination last week when it lost four straight by double-digits against the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers. After it dropped a 106-94 decision to the 76ers on May 3, the Bulls fell four games out of the 10th spot but they have responded impressively with three double-digit wins in four nights to create a significant meeting with the Nets, who they also visit Saturday.
“The last (few) games we’ve shown what we can do when we’re fully healthy and guys are playing at levels we can play at,” Chicago’s Garrett Temple said. “So, to see that it makes it even more disappointing. But at the end of the day there’s still a pathway and we’ve got to worry about what we can control and let the chips fall where they may.”
After sweeping a back-to-back with a 120-99 win over Charlotte on Thursday and a 121-99 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday, the Bulls kept their hopes alive with a 108-96 win at Detroit on Sunday.
The Bulls are looking for continued production from Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic after the duo delivered monster games on Sunday.
LaVine, who missed 11 games after testing positive for COVID-19, scored 30 points on an efficient 10-for-16 shooting while playing 36 minutes. In his first two games back from his lengthy absence, LaVine scored 38 points on 15-of-35 shooting.
Vucevic totaled 29 points and 16 rebounds for his eighth straight double-double. During Chicago’s winning streak, he is averaging 25.3 points and 14.7 rebounds.
“We know the challenge right now, and we came in with a lot of energy,” LaVine said. “We’ve got to keep playing like this if we want a chance to keep our season alive.”
Brooklyn (44-24) hopes experiencing a recent rough patch ultimately helps them down the road in the postseason. The Nets seemed headed for a fifth straight loss Saturday before rallying from a 21-point deficit in a 125-119 win over the Denver Nuggets to improve to 1-3 on their five-game road trip.
“I’m happy for us to be uncomfortable right now. I’m happy for us to struggle and suffer,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. “I’m glad we won but suffering and building that resolve and that understanding — we don’t have that common experience, so these experiences when we’re on the mat are good for us.”
Kevin Durant scored 14 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter when the Nets shot 58.3 percent and hit 11 free throws. Kyrie Irving added 31 after the Nets were outscored 71-56 in the first half and Blake Griffin chipped in 16 of his 20 in the third quarter.
The Nets clinched their playoff berth April 28 and are three games behind Philadelphia for the top seed and a half-game up on Milwaukee for second place.
–Field Level Media