Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan offers up some packing tips for teammates

With the season on the line, the Bulls play next Wednesday in the Eastern Conference play-in game. As far as DeRozan was concerned, pack for a second game ... just in case.

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DeMar DeRozan

Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan knows what a play-in game entails, losing to Memphis back in 2021 as a member of the Spurs.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

MILWAUKEE — Bulls veteran forward DeMar DeRozan offered some quick packing tips to his teammates.

“You pack a bag, and you’ve got to pack with the understanding if you win you have to go somewhere else,’’ DeRozan said. “You’ve got to pack it for a couple of days.’’

OK, it’s not exactly a bunch of details on how to roll the socks or make a pair of dress shoes work for several occasions. But that was DeRozan’s mindset after the Bulls officially cemented the No. 10 and final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.

Lose, and it’s just a one-and-done trip. Win, and it’s off to a second destination to be determined.

DeRozan was counting on the latter and wanted to make sure that his teammates shared a similar belief.

“I think everyone is going to understand packing your bag, we’re not just going to play one game,’’ DeRozan said. “You’ve got to take it to another level going into these play-in games because there’s no more, ‘We could of had that one.’ [or] ‘We let that one get away, we played great.’

“You’ve got to put all the chips on the table and go all in and understand the way we beat the big teams this year, what happened, what was our mindset? Go in with that approach.’’

DeRozan would know.

Of all the players on the roster, he’s one of the few — along with Alex Caruso — who have been thrown into the play-in fire.

DeRozan was a starter for the Spurs in the 2021 play-in tournament, losing to the Grizzlies in that first game. And the Spurs were also the No. 10 seed.

Here’s how it work: the No. 10 and No. 9 seeds play each other with the loser going home. The winner then plays the loser of the No. 7 and No. 8 game, with the No. 8 seed and a first-round series against the Bucks as the reward. As of Thursday, the Bulls are locked into the 10th spot and would open up at the Raptors next Wednesday.

That would put the No. 8 Hawks at the No. 7 Heat, with the Bulls heading southwest either way if they could get past DeRozan’s former team.

That’s a storyline in itself.

DeRozan was drafted out of USC by the Raptors with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 draft. He spent his first nine seasons there and never wanted to leave. When they traded him for Kawhi Leonard in the 2018 offseason, it admittedly brought him to tears.

The idea of facing his former organization in a win-or-go-home game?

“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,’’ DeRozan said. “I think it would be fun. It would be very exciting . . . it would be real cool.’’

What wouldn’t be cool?

The Bulls going into the play-in tournament thinking they can get away with what they tried to pull off for three straight games.

Against the Grizzlies, Hawks and Bucks, the Bulls fell behind by double-digits in the first quarter, then scraped and clawed their way out to get back into the game. They succeeded against the Grizzlies, putting together the best second half of the season.

The Hawks and Bucks, however, made that hole too tough to overcome, handing the Bulls back-to-back losses that ruined any chances of earning a higher seed.

That mentality cannot be packed up for the upcoming road trip.

“Obviously, we don’t try to get down,’’ guard Zach LaVine said. “Sometimes teams make shots. We just have to be the more aggressive team offensively and defensively, especially in a play-in. You have to be more desperate than the other team because whoever wins wants it more. You’ve got to throw it all out there because every possession is going to matter.

“If you don’t win you’re done. Better throw it all out there regardless of how you are playing or feeling.’’

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