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2023-24 Eastern Conference Play-In Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Chicago Bulls

Bulls Hawks NBA

Bulls Hawks NBA
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 Eastern Conference Play-In Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks will cap off the first set of the 2023-24 play-in round of the postseason Wednesday evening inside United Center in Chicago, Ill.

The winner of this game will be fortunate enough to play the loser between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, who will tip off their game at 7:00 p.m. EST!! But what can we expect from these two teams, who are hoping to see another day? Let’s examine!

What to know about the Atlanta Hawks:

Last year, the Hawks went through a midseason coaching change that resulted in them finishing as the No. 8 seed by the end of the regular season. They catapulted to the No. 7 seed by downing the Miami Heat, but entering 2023-24, there was expected to be more optimism in a full season of Quin Snyder’s product than Nate McMillan.

That was not necessarily the case, finishing as the No. 10 seed in the East and 10 games below .500–perhaps falling a tier below their “perpetual mediocrity” status that’s hung over their head since advancing to the conference finals in 2020-21. There were plenty of rumors surrounding the trade statuses of star guards Trae Young and, especially, Dejounte Murray, who signed a four-year extension last offseason. Young also missed a month-and-a-half after the All-Star break and has played only three games since his return; it did not help matters that Jalen Johnson–who had a breakout third season–DeAndre Hunter, Saddiq Bey (who’s out for the season) and Onyeka Okongwu missed time due to injury.

Despite all of that, the Hawks finished with the NBA’s 12th-best offense and were toward middle-of-the-pack in effective field goal percentage (53.9; 17th) and true-shooting percentage (57.6; 18th)–in spite of its 27th-ranked defense.

What to know about the Chicago Bulls:

The Bulls, like the Hawks, have been stuck in purgatory. For Chicago, it’s more so since the injury to Lonzo Ball, who, unfortunately, hasn’t appeared in a basketball game since Jan. 14, 2022 (825 days … if anyone’s counting) due to myriad knee surgeries.

Chicago suffered a blow midseason with Zach LaVine‘s foot injury that forced him to undergo season-ending surgery in early February–ending his 2023-24 campaign after just 25 games. Though Chicago rallied behind Coby White–who had a breakout season–and 35-year-old veteran DeMar DeRozan, going 13-14 after the All-Star break with the 12th-best offense over that span. Javonte Green also provided a strong resurgence for them at the end of the season, averaging 15.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks over the team’s final six games.

The Bulls finished with one fewer win than they did a year ago, but still have a crack at finishing as the No. 8 seed in the East after being three minutes shy of winning two straight on the road at this time last year.


Can Trae Young provide enough juice offensively to survive?

Since the start of 2022-23, Trae Young’s affairs against Chicago have been a mixed bag, averaging 22.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 12.0 assists and 5.0 turnovers (!!) on 33.7 percent shooting and 28.6 percent from deep in their five meetings.

Since his return from injury, he’s averaged 15.0 points, 10.0 assists and five turnovers on 57.7 percent shooting and 46.2 percent from 3-point range, though the offense itself tallied 116.3 points, 105 points and 115.7 points against the Hornets, Timberwolves and Pacers, respectively, per Cleaning The Glass. It’s not just Young (who was, respectfully, “ramping up” from injury), and it’s a small sample, but those are two below-average defenses. Young will also have the ball in his hands more than anyone else Wednesday … against another below average defense.

Chicago will likely deploy a lot of Alex Caruso and Javonte Green on Young. Even though it’s been a bottom-five unit since the All-Star break, Chicago’s done a solid job–at times–overcompensating for Vucevic’s shortcomings in the drop. If Young can’t 1.) pick Chicago apart enough with his playmaking or 2.) knock down enough tough shots, either from beyond the arc or in the short mid-range (floater), then Atlanta may be sunk unless it gets enough ancillary production from Murray or Johnson.

Why is this game mandatory agai-…just kidding, we’ll save that topic for another time.

Prediction: Bulls win 115-111

What do you think happens? Let us know in the comments!


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