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Bulls release 2019-20 schedule, and here are five key games to watch

Zion Williamson and the Pelicans visit the United Center on Feb. 6 to headline the must-see games, but April will present the biggest test if the Bulls are to make a run at the playoffs.

Win-total predictions is an area that John Paxson stays away from.

That doesn’t mean that the Bulls vice president of basketball operations hasn’t embraced the confidence of his players heading into the 2019-20 season.

Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen expect nothing short of a playoff push, so it’s not in Paxson’s nature to even think about squashing that dream.

“We can make a substantial leap,’’ Paxson said during this offseason. “And I did tell the players, and you’ve heard Zach’s comment on how he wants to even be a playoff team next year, I think our goal has to be to be in that hunt. We want to be in that hunt again.

“Now, that’s going to take us being healthy. That’s the first thing in this, and hopefully we’ll get a little luck in that regard.’’

That’s not the only luck the Bulls will need, as the NBA released the schedule for the upcoming season on Monday. Year 3 of the rebuild has at least has some winnable games early on.

While opening the season in Charlotte on Oct. 23 doesn’t seem like a daunting task, the Bulls will play four of their five games in October on the road. The home opener will be Oct. 26 against the defending champion Raptors.

It’s not until early November that things get interesting. The Bulls host Derrick Rose and the Pistons on Nov. 1, then play at Indiana, are at home to the Lakers, at Atlanta, and at home to Houston.

If this team truly has playoff aspirations, however, they likely will need a good record heading into April. On March 30, they head to Utah, and then play at Denver, at Phoenix, at the Lakers and at the Clippers. Then they return home and host Brooklyn and Orlando before finishing things off at Boston on April 15.

Here are the five most interesting games of the upcoming season:

1. Feb. 6 vs. New Orleans — Zion Williamson and the new-look Pelicans come to the United Center for their lone visit of the season. As long as Williamson is healthy, the Pelicans are a must-watch. Factor in that these two teams are rebuilding, not only will this be an air-show spectacle with LaVine, but it should be competitive.

2. Nov. 1 vs. Detroit — With the release of his new book “I’ll Show You,’’ Rose is still an attraction for the many apologists running around his hometown. The Bulls and their fan base will get a first look at him in his new Piston blue and red at the United Center in early November, and then see him again on Nov. 20.

The Pistons feel like they are a playoff team again, so it will be a good measuring stick for the Bulls to see if they also can make some noise for an Eastern Conference No. 7 or No. 8 seed.

3. Nov. 5 vs. L.A. Lakers — LeBron, A.D. at the United Center … enough said.

4. April 5 at Phoenix — It’s the Suns, yes. But if the Bulls are serious about a playoff push this is a must-win game. It’s likely the only winnable road game on paper that month.

5. Dec. 16 at Oklahoma City — Coach Jim Boylen is big into team bonding on the road, and this game tips off a four-game trip that looks very winnable. Playing the Thunder, at Washington, at Detroit and then at Orlando in mid-December could set a very important mindset.