Not ideal, but Bulls might as well embrace the play-in

One of the many Bulls low moments since the championship era ended was the 2012 playoff series against Philadelphia.

That's when Derrick Rose tore his ACL late in Game 1, Joakim Noah rolled his ankle badly in Game 3, then Omer Asik missed 2 late free throws in Game 6, allowing the No. 8 seed Sixers to finish off the series.

When that game ended, Andre Iguodala and company jumped on the scorer's table to celebrate, even though they'd done nothing remarkable.

In that spirit, let's welcome the 2024 play-in tournament. The Bulls will host Atlanta on Wednesday in a game that will start at 8:30 p.m. because the 76ers' arena was booked for hockey on Tuesday. The winner of this game will face the loser of Miami-Philadelphia on Friday for the No. 8 seed.

In the scheme of trying to win a championship, sure, a 9 vs. 10 play-in game is pretty lame. But the alternative is cleaning out lockers, so let's just admit the play-in is more fun and try to enjoy it. There will be plenty of time later to break down all the ways this franchise has gone wrong.

The good news is the Bulls usually rise to the occasion when rested and they've had two days off since the regular season ended with an overtime loss at Madison Square Garden. DeMar DeRozan has had plenty of time to recover from the 44 minutes he logged in a meaningless game (for the Bulls, anyway).

The Bulls won two of three from Atlanta this year, dropped the lone home game, but that was one of those schedule losses when the Bulls had to play a rested Hawks team on the second leg of a back-to-back.

Potential bad news is Trae-stopper Ayo Dosunmu is recovering from a right quad contusion and listed questionable. He's missed the last four games.

With his long arms, Dosunmu has done a nice job of pestering the smaller Trae Young defensively. The Hawks' three-time all-star shot 29% against the Bulls this season and 36% last season.

Young has dealt with his own injury issues, missing 23 games with a torn ligament in his finger. He's played in just three games since returning from the injury.

Dosunmu participated briefly in a scrimmage at Tuesday's practice, but will likely be a game-time decision. He said being able to reach a full-speed sprint is his biggest concern.

“I feel better, I would say,” Dosunmu said at the Advocate Center. “I feel good. Hopefully the swelling will continue to move in the right direction so I can hopefully play. It's really just trying to be able to sprint. That's pretty much the last hurdle I'm trying to get over.”

Bulls center Andre Drummond is also questionable with a left ankle sprain that caused him to miss the last three games. Coach Billy Donovan said Drummond tested the ankle Monday, but is still dealing with some swelling.

Neither team will be full-strength. The Bulls have been without Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams and Julian Phillips for a while. Shooting guard Onuralp Bitim joined the list due to a detached right retina, which likely happened Friday against Washington.

Atlanta will be without Saddiq Bey (ACL tear), Jalen Johnson (right ankle sprain) and Onyeka Okongwu (left toe sprain). As is usually the case, the undersized Bulls have to be careful not to give too much help inside and let the 3-point shooters get hot. Shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovich was the Hawks' leading scorer against the Bulls this season at 23.3 points per game.

“We’ve had aspirations of playing in the post season all year,” Bulls guard Alex Caruso said. “So it’s really just about taking all the work we’ve done, being attentive, playing as hard as we can and try to go out and win.”

The Bulls won a road play-in game last year at Toronto, before fading late against Miami.

Considering the Bulls started 5-14 this season and looked awful in the process, a play-in game isn't the worst result. Winning twice and drawing a playoff series against the top-seeded Celtics may be a pointless exercise, but there's no harm in the Bulls trying to win this first one.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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