Loss to Bucks locks Bulls into the 10th and final play-in spot

At the start of the week, the Bulls had a say in bettering their play-in position. Consecutive losses, however, officially locked them into the 10th spot in the East as they wait to find out whom they’ll take on next week.

SHARE Loss to Bucks locks Bulls into the 10th and final play-in spot
DeMar DeRozan

Bulls veteran DeMar DeRozan did little to help his team stay alive for better than the No. 10 spot on Wednesday, scoring just eight points on 3-for-12 shooting.

Morry Gash/AP

MILWAUKEE — This wasn’t what Arturas Karnisovas envisioned on media day back in September.

The Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations was open about his expectations for the 2022-23 season: at least a trip to the second round of the playoffs.

Maybe these Bulls will still get there.

Or maybe this car wreck of a team stalls out next week in the first play-in game, ending a season of disappointment and inconsistency.

Either way, they made the journey much more difficult for themselves Wednesday.

In losing to the Bucks 105-92, the Bulls (38-42) locked themselves into the 10th and final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference.

Coach Billy Donovan said the plan would be to rest the core of their starters against the Mavericks on Friday, get everyone back in to keep a rhythm Sunday in the regular-season finale against the Pistons, then get ready to fight for their playoff lives on the road.

It’s a tall challenge, but his players seem ready to embrace it.

“I always believe that if you got a chance, you got a way,’’ forward DeMar DeRozan said. “We got a chance, and now we just got to make a way. Can’t miss this opportunity. Comes down to a one-game elimination.

“It’s an opportunity to make the playoffs, and that’s how we’ve got to look at it.’’

That sounds great, but they had an opportunity to possibly better their positioning for the play-in, even getting a home game if they could’ve taken care of business the last few days. Instead, they suffered back-to-back losses to the Hawks and the shorthanded Bucks.

That doesn’t exactly scream: “Bring on the play-in!”

“You’ve got to throw it all out there,’’ guard Zach LaVine said. “Every possession is going to matter because if you don’t win, you’re done. So you better throw it all out there.’’

That advice would’ve come in handy a few hours earlier.

Without Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) around to wreck game plans, the Bulls should’ve sprinted out of the gate at Fiserv Forum. A sense of urgency should’ve been expected right from the opening tip.

These Bulls, however, don’t do urgency.

Instead, they’d much rather sleepwalk into a first-quarter deficit, then at some point decide how quickly they want to try to climb out of it. That mindset will get a team a quick vacation to Cancun starting next week.

The Bulls were down 11 in the first quarter and looking like there was somewhere they’d rather be. They were lucky to close out the quarter only down 28-21, considering LaVine and DeRozan combined to score two points.

Thank goodness for big man Nikola Vucevic. He had eight points in the first quarter, then followed that up with a 10-point second quarter on 4-for-5 shooting from the field.

With forward Khris Middleton joining Antetokounmpo in street clothes after playing only eight minutes of the first quarter, the Bulls had a 51-49 lead at halftime.

When guard Patrick Beverley made a three-pointer less than four minutes into the second half, the Bulls’ lead was up to 10. But the Bucks battled back and recaptured the lead in the fourth quarter. As for the Bulls, they opted to go quietly into the night.

“Teams are too good; the room for error is too small,’’ DeRozan said of the Bulls’ slow starts. “We’ve got to realize that.’’

As for DeRozan, eight points on a 3-for-12 shooting night didn’t help.

“It won’t happen again,’’ DeRozan said. “I guarantee you that.’’

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