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10 observations: Bulls clinch play-in spot despite loss to Hawks

Race for East's 9th seed, homecourt advantage in first play-in game gets tighter

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls fell 113-101 to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at the United Center, seeing their lead for the East’s ninth seed dwindle to a half-game.

The ending of the game got spicy for the Hawks when Bogdan Bogdanovic and coach Quin Snyder had to be separated during a timeout. They later hugged.

"I don't think we played that bad," DeMar DeRozan said. "We just missed a lot of shots, missed a lot of opportunities."

Here are 10 observations:

---The Bulls’ magic number to clinch the ninth seed and host the first play-in game remained at six. That’s any combination of Bulls victories or Hawks losses that total six. It’s looking more and more likely that these teams will meet in that first play-in game. It’s just a matter of who plays host to the game. In fact, the Bulls clinched a play-in spot despite the loss by virtue of the Nets' loss to the Pacers.

---The Hawks salvaged the third and final meeting between these teams largely on the strength of 3-point shooting. Vit Krejci sank all six attempts and finished with 18 points as the Hawks finished 19-for-40 from beyond the arc. Similar to the Bulls’ recent loss in Brooklyn, the Bulls struggled from 3-point range, making just 7-of-28 to finish minus-36 from beyond the arc.

"I think some of the 3-pointers were a byproduct of there's always a battle at the point of screens offensively and defensively," coach Billy Donovan said. "And I thought really on both ends they won those battles. I think that contributed to the ball getting to where it needed to go and putting us in some long rotations. They shot the ball exceptionally well too. You have to give them credit for that."

Donovan added the Bulls also didn't have enough awareness on the weak side and gave up too many corner 3-pointers, even with the shooter being on the same or strong side of the ball.

---The Bulls shot just 39.4 percent overall. While they dominated points in the paint and posted a solid 11 second-chance points, their shooting cost them.

---DeRozan scored 31 points with five assists, largely on the strength of 11-for-12 shooting from the free-throw line. He shot 10-for-23 and Coby White, who scored 22 points, shot 8-for-21. Alex Caruso missed 10 of 13 shots. The Bulls’ shooting struggles were widespread.

---Andre Drummond recorded a double-double in just 9 minutes, 37 seconds of his first rotational turn. He finished with 13 points and 18 rebounds in 20 minutes. Back in December, Drummond posted a ridiculous stat line of 24 points and 25 rebounds in his first start of the season for the then-injured Nikola Vucevic.

Vucevic only took seven shots, however. And Donovan’s usage of the double-big lineup to open the fourth didn’t fully work. At one point, despite having both bigs in, the Bulls failed to corral a missed free throw, leading to second-chance points from Wes Matthews.

"Because we weren't shooting the ball particularly well, I thought we needed to get some stuff at the basket," Donovan said.

---More rotational tidbits: The Onuralp Bitim era appears to be fading. He didn’t play until mop-up time and Donovan trotted out seldom used Terry Taylor for solid first-half minutes. Jevon Carter, who didn’t play the last two games, got the nod in the second half but missed all three shots.

---Jalen Johnson returned for his first action since he sprained his right ankle on March 18. The forward averages 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds and scored eight straight points in the first half at one point. He finished with 11 points as the Hawks enjoyed a 35-20 bench scoring advantage.

Johnson won’t hit the 65-game minimum to be eligible for postseason honors or else he would’ve drawn strong consideration for Most Improved Player along with Coby White.

---The Bulls appeared to start brilliantly. Their 11-0 run featured two steals from Alex Caruso, one which led to his breakaway dunk and one which led to a Coby White 3-pointer, and another steal from DeMar DeRozan, who also scored on a breakaway. But the Hawks responded with an 11-2 run, tying into coach Billy Donovan’s pregame theme about handling in-game adversity being his biggest takeaway from this matchup. Especially since these teams are likely to meet in the play-in tournament.

---Javonte Green missed the game for personal reasons. His 10-day contract expired Monday night. With Julian Phillips still in and out of a walking boot and not performing any on-court work, it’s more likely than not that Green is re-signed to a second 10-day contract, per a source. However, with the Bulls not playing again until Friday and Green’s personal situation, that next 10-day contract may not be signed until later in the week.

As for Green’s playoff eligibility, he’s not eligible under his current contract situation of a hardship injury exception. If the Bulls were to want to add Green for the playoffs, they’d have to waive a player and sign him to a prorated standard NBA deal.

---Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine and Patrick Williams returned to Chicago to rejoin the team and continue their respective rehabilitations here. Donovan said he talked to Ball in person during the day. LaVine and Williams arrived later and sat on the bench.

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