Chicago Bulls

Bulls' 3-game skid puts hold on East's 9th seed in jeopardy

Defensive issues rearing their head at inopportune time

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

As usual, DeMar DeRozan was right on point.

“You want to be playing good basketball towards this part of the season,” he said late Monday night.

And suddenly, the Chicago Bulls are not.

Losers of three straight, they suddenly find themselves in a race for the mere ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. And while their danger of falling out of the play-in picture dissipated weeks ago---they currently lead Brooklyn by seven games with 10 to play---finishing ninth or 10th is the difference between a home and road play-in game.

The 10th-seeded Atlanta Hawks now trail the Bulls by 1-1/2 games with a Monday meeting at the United Center looming. That game finishes a back-to-back set for the Bulls, who play the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road on Sunday.

Like the Bulls, the Hawks have endured multiple injuries, including Trae Young, who has been sidelined since late February after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left hand. His status is unknown for Monday’s matchup.

According to, the Hawks face the 12th-toughest remaining schedule while the Bulls’ slate ranks 18th. But as Monday’s brutal loss to the shorthanded Washington Wizards underscores, the Bulls are capable of losing to anybody.

“We just don’t have that kind of room for error,” coach Billy Donovan said.

The Bulls’ net rating of minus-2 ranks 21st, the only current play-in team not in the top 20. Houston, which trails Golden State by just a half-game for the Western Conference’s 10th seed, ranks 14th.

The Bulls’ defense has been the biggest culprit of late. In this small sample size of their three-game losing streak, their defensive rating of 123 ranks 26th. Overall, the Bulls rank 20th in defensive rating after finishing fifth last season.

The issues are on multiple levels.

The Bulls give up the most 3-point attempts and the second-most made 3-pointers in the league. They’ve had trouble finishing their defense too often this season, ranking 14th in allowing 13.8 second-chance points per game.

And injuries have thrust young players like Onuralp Bitim and Dalen Terry into the rotation, and they’re still gaining experience. Donovan has talked about the tendency to foul too much; the Bulls rank 15th in opponents free-throw attempts.

With a five-game deficit for the eighth seed, it’s becoming almost certain the Bulls will finish ninth of 10th. In order to play host to that first play-in game, they’ll need to reverse this recent trend of poor play quickly.

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