Bulls clinch a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017

Technically, yes, the Bulls backed into a guaranteed playoff spot on Tuesday.

So why did it feel more like they actually fell into their first Eastern Conference playoff appearance since 2017?

That same type of clumsiness displayed when a chair is pulled out or a door that’s being leaned on is quickly opened.

Awkward and embarrassing.

That’s because on the same night that the Arturas Karnisovas-led front office brought the organization back to the NBA’s “second season,” it did so with more questions than answers, courtesy of a 127-106 loss to Milwaukee at the United Center.

A loss that dropped the Bulls to 45-34 on the season, but way more concerning, now a combined 0-18 against championship-contending teams in the Bucks, Miami, Philadelphia, Memphis, Phoenix, and Golden State. The Bulls have a split with Boston so far, with the rubber match coming on Wednesday, so to dress it up a bit, make that 1-19 for the year against the league’s elite.

They also dropped to the No. 6 seed once again, thanks to a Toronto win over Atlanta.

Then there’s the on-going health issues for the Bulls.

The Sun-Times was reporting that point guard Lonzo Ball (left knee) was expected to officially be ruled out for the rest of the season – playoffs included – later this week, and it’s hard to overlook the moody left knee of Zach LaVine that was once again angry to start this week.

LaVine was not only held out of the Monday practice and Tuesday shootaround, according to coach Billy Donovan, but missed the game against the Bucks and was on “day-to-day” status with three regular-season games left.

“Between Zach and the medical, those guys talking, just seeing where he’s at physically and coming up with a plan,” Donovan said of how the knee will continue to be handled. “I don’t know where he’ll be at [Wednesday] or where that leaves him. Like I said, it’s more kind of a day-to-day, the next day to see how he’s doing.

“As competitive as he is he wants to be out there playing, so I know it bothers him, but I think he’s trying to make good, wise choices.”

Which is what the organization and LaVine’s camp both want. Not only to make sure that the All-Star is as fresh as the knee will allow him to be for the playoffs, but also knowing that he will be a free agent this summer, looking for max money.

The expectation, however, was he should be able to gut his way through the postseason because there will be no back-to-backs.

“I didn’t get that at all like this is at a place where he’s going to need to sit multiple games,” Donovan added of LaVine. “I think it’s more going to be an evaluation of him on a daily basis.”

The evaluation for the Bulls against the Bucks was a simple one: DeMar DeRozan and everyone else get out of the way, as the veteran dropped 40 on the defending champs.

It was DeRozan’s 28th 30-plus game of the season, with only Michael Jordan putting up more in a year.

Meanwhile, while Nikola Vucevic struggled on a 3-for-19 shooting night, he did at least show the Bulls don’t forget, picking up a technical for an elbow to the face area of Milwaukee’s Grayson Allen. The same Allen who knocked Alex Caruso out for months with a wrist fracture on a flagrant-2.

“I’m happy for our guys, I’m happy for our organization,” Donovan said of the playoff berth. “You want to be playing at that time of the year. A lot of these guys haven’t experienced this.”

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