The Chicago Bulls are fighting for a spot in the NBA play-in tournament, a battle for the last two playoff seeds in each conference. Here’s an explainer about the history of the event and how it works — and where the Bulls stand.
The NBA introduced the idea after the restart of the pandemic-delayed 2019-20 season, with a team needing to be within four games of the No. 8 seed to force a play-in for the last playoff spot in the conference.
The Memphis Grizzlies finished a half-game behind the No. 8 seed Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference, and the Blazers won the first game of a play-in, thus earning the final playoff spot. In the East, the ninth-place Washington Wizards finished 7½ games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic, meaning a play-in was unnecessary.
The next year, the NBA expanded its play-in rules, with only the top-six seeds in each conference guaranteed of a playoff spot and the Nos. 7-10 seeds battling for the final two berths.
No. 7 would play host to No. 8, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed. Then the winner of host No. 9 versus No. 10 would face the loser of the 7-8 matchup, with that winner earning the No. 8 seed. The NBA has kept this format since then.
For the record, none of the play-in teams has won a first-round playoff series.
The Bulls beat the Hornets 121-91 on Friday in Charlotte, N.C., and their lead over the Washington Wizards for the No. 10 seed is at three games. With five games remaining, the Bulls (37-40) are one game behind the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors, both of whom are 38-39.
The Bulls currently own the tiebreaker against the Wizards and Hawks, but the Raptors have the edge on the Bulls.