Chicago Bulls

Bulls sit squarely in 9th in Eastern Conference standings

With 23 games to go, team has 5-1/2-game lead to keep a berth in the play-in tournament

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

A demoralizing home loss to the lowly Detroit Pistons is followed by an improbable double overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, also at the United Center.

From down to up and, still, the Chicago Bulls sit squarely in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings. They own a 1-1/2-game lead over the Atlanta Hawks, whom they face on April 1 at the United Center and are currently without All-Star guard Trae Young.

That the Bulls are, as of Thursday morning, 5-1/2 games behind the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers and an automatic playoff berth and 5-1/2 games ahead of the 11th-place Brooklyn Nets seems fitting.

At this point, with 23 games to go, the Bulls are looking more and more like they'll finish in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. That would mean a berth in the play-in tournament and the need to win two games for the right to clinch the eighth seed and a likely first-round matchup with the NBA-leading Boston Celtics.

The Bulls know this route. Last season, they finished in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with a 40-42 record. That meant they faced an elimination play-in game on the road, where they defeated the Toronto Raptors. They then traveled to Miami and led the Heat with just over 3 minutes to play before the offense faltered.

The Heat took advantage and rode their play-in victory to a first-round upset of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and a berth in the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Nuggets.

If the Bulls finish ninth this season, they'd host the first play-in game at the United Center against the 10th seed. The winner of that game would face a road game against the winner of the game pitting the seventh and eighth seeds against each other.

The Bulls have 11 home and 12 road games remaining, including Friday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks in which breakout guard Ayo Dosunmu is scheduled to wear a microphone for the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast.

According to the website Tankathon, the Bulls face the 23rd-hardest schedule down the stretch, based on opponent winning percentage as of Thursday.

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