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Apr 1, 2024 7:49 am

Bulls bid for season sweep of Hawks

Chicago Bulls

The race for playoff positioning will intensify on Monday night when the Chicago Bulls host the Atlanta Hawks in a battle for home court in the NBA play-in tournament.

The Bulls sit in ninth place and the Hawks are 10th in the Eastern Conference, and the two likely will play in the opener of the play-in tournament. But the No. 9 team will host the game, in which the loser is eliminated.

Chicago (36-39) leads Atlanta (34-40) by 1 1/2 games after its 109-101 win against Minnesota on Sunday. It was only the Bulls’ second win in their last six games.

Chicago has won both games against Atlanta this season — 118-113 at home on Dec. 26 and 136-126 in Atlanta on Feb. 12. That earned the Bulls the tiebreaker should the teams finish the season with identical records, as the series finale will be Monday.

“We just talk about playing hard for 48 minutes,” Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan said. “More so than anything, we need to compete a full game and not put ourselves in a hole to make things difficult for us.”

The Bulls got another strong effort on Sunday from DeRozan, who had 27 points and eight assists. He has 27-plus points in each of his last five games. He is averaging 23.5 points, 5.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds this season.

Nikola Vucevic, another matchup problem for Atlanta, has a double-double in three straight games against the Hawks.

This will be the second game in two nights for the Bulls. Chicago is 6-6 in the second game of a back-to-back set.

Atlanta showed its fatigue in Saturday’s 122-113 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the Hawks’ fourth game in six days, with two of them emotional wins against the NBA-best Boston Celtics.

The Hawks have won four of their last five despite playing with a depleted roster. All-Star Trae Young has missed 18 games after surgery to repair a ligament in his left hand and isn’t guaranteed to return. Starter Saddiq Bey tore his ACL on March 10 and is out for the season. Emerging Jalen Johnson has missed nine games with a right ankle sprain, and reserve Onyeka Okongwu has missed 18 of the last 19 games with a sprained right big toe.

“We take it one game at a time, honestly,” Dejounte Murray said. “Just in the situation we’re in with a lot of guys out, with the guys we do have, we’re sticking together and taking it one game at a time. At the end of the day, every game is important.”

Murray averaged 28.3 points, 10.3 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 41.1 minutes in four games last week. He averaged 26.7 points, 9.2 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals in March.

The Hawks have gotten big minutes at times from the likes of Garrison Mathews, Wesley Matthews and Bruno Fernando, who has become an emotional force.

“We need his emotions,” Atlanta coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s better that way.”

–Field Level Media

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