The Bulls could also reach the postseason if the Miami Heat help them out, but Chicago can make things easy by winning its two remaining contests.
Nothing comes easily for the inconsistent Bulls, who keep finding ways to play down to the level of their opposition and lose winnable games.
Heading into a Monday night contest against the lowly Orlando Magic at the United Center in Chicago, the Bulls (39-41) are tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with Miami (39-41). Chicago owns the tiebreaker over the Heat, who play their next-to-last regular-season game on Monday when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Chicago finishes at home on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets, the club with the NBA’s worst record. Miami closes at home that evening against the Washington Wizards.
And seventh-place Indiana (40-40) is in the mix. The Pacers play the 76ers on Monday night in Philadelphia before ending the regular-season at home Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
Chicago also has the tiebreaker over Indiana and could pass the Pacers.
But don’t go by the numbers with this bunch of Bulls.
Chicago should have all-but wrapped up a postseason berth on Saturday night at Brooklyn. The Bulls led by nine points with 4:24 left before the Nets went on a 10-0 run and eventually won 107-106.
Before the late collapse, things were looking up for Chicago. Veteran guard Dwyane Wade scored 14 points in his first game since March 15, when he suffered an elbow injury that was expected to sideline him for the remainder of the regular season.
Wade started and played nearly 25 minutes. Coach Fred Hoiberg had originally planned to limit the 35-year-old star to about 20 minutes and pulled Wade with the Bulls ahead by six in the fourth quarter. Hoiberg brought the veteran back with 2:22 left to try to stem the Nets’ run.
“Elbow felt cool,” Wade said. “It’s just my legs. I’m trying to get my legs back and my wind back.”
Added Hoiberg: “As the game went on, you can tell he got a little more comfortable.”
Wade’s workload is expected to increase Monday night, and, if needed, again on Wednesday.
The Bulls need to tidy things up. Turnovers and blown coverage assignments have doomed them, including against the Nets on Saturday.
“We didn’t guard anybody,” said Jimmy Butler, who led Chicago with 33 points at Brooklyn. “We score points. We’ve just got to stop other teams from scoring.
“We’re still in this thing. We have to go and get better… now we need these next two.”
While Wade should get more playing time, Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo is questionable for Monday due to a sprained wrist he sustained last Tuesday against the New York Knicks.
The Magic (28-52) have little to play for other than pride — and confounding the Bulls. Chicago is 2-1 against Orlando this season.
The Magic lost to Indiana 127-112 at the Amway Center on Saturday night.
“It was a disappointing performance by our guys,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We were terrible on the defensive end.”
Orlando swingman Evan Fournier told the Orlando Sentinel the loss degenerated into a “layup show” by the Pacers as the Magic “didn’t protect the paint at all.”
The Magic’s issues on defense have been consistent, compared to Chicago’s spottiness. Orlando’s defensive rating is 26th at 108.
Before the All-Star break, the Magic allowed 107.2 points per 100 possessions and permitted opponents to shoot 46.4 percent from the field. Since the break, Orlando has allowed 109.8 points per 100 possessions and permitted opponents to make 47.5 percent of their shots.