Bulls finish off Pistons in season finale and prep for play-in game

With the regular season in the books, the attention quickly turned to Toronto and the play-in game on Wednesday. It hasn’t gone great for the Bulls up north this season, but Alex Caruso & Co. expect that to change.

SHARE Bulls finish off Pistons in season finale and prep for play-in game
DeMar DeRozan

After using the regular-season finale against Detroit as a tune-up, Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan knows what awaits himself and his teammates up in Toronto on Wednesday.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Playtime is over.

The regular season ended Sunday, and the Bulls, with their 103-81 victory at the United Center, helped the division rival Pistons reach their seasonlong tanking goal of finishing with the worst record in the NBA.

Detroit now has to hope for lottery luck and must find a new coach after Dwane Casey stepped down to take a role in the front office.

As for the Bulls, they start the uphill battle of fighting for a playoff spot.

It’ll be no easy task. They tip off the play-in tournament Wednesday in Toronto (6 p.m., ESPN), and if they beat the Raptors, they would face the loser of the Hawks-Heat game (6 or 6:30 p.m. Friday, TNT) in hopes of capturing the No. 8 seed and a fully paid trip to Milwaukee.

In other words, there’s little room for error.

“For sure, we expected to be in a better position than we are now,’’ center Nikola Vucevic said. “We have the talent for it, but, for whatever reason, we never clicked consistently to do it. Going through everything we have this year has made us closer, tougher, and hopefully we can use that as a good thing.’’

They had better use it for something, especially considering that executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas kept the core roster intact from last season despite obvious flaws with the hopes of making the second round of the playoffs.

Now the hope is that they can at least make the second play-in game. And despite all the inconsistencies shown during a 40-42 season, guard Alex Caruso sees that happening.

“I have all the confidence in the world in our guys,’’ Caruso said. “One game, winner take all, it’s essentially a Game 7, right?

‘‘I feel like when you’ve put the money on the line this year for us, big games, important games that we needed, we’ve been able to put our best foot forward.’’

The Bulls didn’t need to put their best foot forward against the Pistons, who didn’t offer much resistance.

Approaching the finale like a last preseason tune-up game, coach Billy Donovan went with all five starters but pulled Vucevic and Caruso after the first half. Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Beverley played into the third quarter but got the hook for such seldom-used Bulls as Dalen Terry and Marko Simonovic.

LaVine led the Bulls with 17 points, and DeRozan chipped in 16. They took advantage of 25 Pistons turnovers to score 30 points.

The Raptors, obviously, will present a much tougher challenge.

The Bulls will have to deal with as hostile an environment as many of these players have ever seen against a team that took two of three from them this season, with both Bulls losses taking place on the road.

DeRozan spent his first nine seasons with the Raptors, so he knows what awaits.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve said a joke about it here and there, just how crazy it’s going to be,’’ DeRozan said. “The atmosphere is going to feel like it’s an Eastern Conference finals game, not a play-in game, so it’s definitely going to feel crazy.

“Driving to the arena, walking into the arena, you’re definitely going to feel it. That’s the beauty of that place and those fans. Any competitor will want to be a part of that, for sure.’’

That starts with DeRozan, who never wanted to leave the Raptors. When they traded him after the 2017-18 season, he was in tears.

“The irony of the whole thing . . . just going back,’’ DeRozan said. “Full-circle moment going back. It’s going to be interesting.’’

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