Chicago Bulls

Bulls rebound from dismal start to clinch homecourt in lower play-in

Team is 33-28 since low point of season, an experience players and coaches say has toughened them

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DETROIT --- The Chicago Bulls clinched homecourt advantage for next week's play-in game against the Atlanta Hawks, and coach Billy Donovan said conversations will be had with players and the medical staff on how to best approach their final two regular-season games.

But before they reach any conclusions on how to approach Friday night in Washington against the Wizards and Sunday afternoon in New York against the Knicks, Donovan, while not planning any parades, wanted to acknowledge how far the Bulls have come.

They started the season at 5-14, dropping to a low with a uninspiring effort in Boston on November 28 in which DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine left with injuries.

Since then, the Bulls are 33-28 and that's with season-ending injuries to LaVine and Patrick Williams and significant time missed by Torrey Craig. Other players missed games here and there as well.

"I'm happy for these guys," coach Billy Donovan said. "I think sometimes when you just look in the moment of where you're at, sometimes you don't get a chance to look at where you started. I've said before: It was a rough start for us. And I really appreciate the guys in that locker room sticking together, fighting, not quitting, not making excuses or pointing fingers and trying to rally and pull together and play better.

"And as the season continued to go on, we lost players. And they never wavered from that. And I think what they've done to get to this point is great. But there's still a lot in front of us in terms of opportunities."

Last season, the Bulls played both play-in game on the road, winning in Toronto before blowing a late lead in Miami. Now, if they advance to the eighth seed and a first-round playoff matchup against the Boston Celtics, they only need to win one road game.

"I always feel like our place is a great place to play," Donovan said. "It's an electric crowd, an electric environment. Obviously, it's up to us to give them something to cheer about and get excited about. But I think you always want to have the opportunity to play at home.

"But teams won on the road last year (in the play-in tournament.) Atlanta went into Miami and won. Oklahoma City won. We went to Toronto and won. It's nice to play at home, but it doesn't ensure you anything."

Donovan said the conversations about how to approach the next two games also will factor in how the play-in game isn't scheduled until April 17. So taking two games off completely may not be the best route. Perhaps reduced minutes is the right plan.

"I just work here, bro," White said in classic humorous fashion, when asked what approach he'd like to take in Washington and New York.

DeRozan said "the fresher I feel, the better the outcome."

As for how the Bulls rallied from that 5-14 start, White was more philosophical.

"We all believe in each other, no matter who's playing," White said. "Obviously, we got a lot of guys out. We're a team. We all really get along with each other and uplift each other through everything."

Added DeRozan: "I think we've felt every type of emotion this year. Now with that, use that resilience that we had all year and put all the chips on the table come next week. (Our 5-14 start) built up thick callouses. It prepares you for tough moments, tough situations. Understanding to never fold and understanding that the game is never out of reach and we're going to dogfight every single night. That's one thing I can count on my team about. We've been through it all. And these moments coming up for us next week is an opportunity to put all that together."

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