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How Bulls can stop themselves from snatching victory from jaws of defeat

From ESPN - February 13, 2018

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls lost on Monday night despite the fact that the scoreboard says they beat an awful Orlando Magic squad 105-101 in a half-full United Center. In the battle for NBA draft lottery-ball supremacy, the Bulls took a major step back from securing a top-five pick in a few months. Monday's pillow fight between two tanking teams offered a reminder of just how bad the Bulls are going to have to be down the stretch to lock down the type of high-tier selection their front office is yearning for.

Make no mistake: While the front office and no member of the Bulls organization wo not so much as breathe the word "tank," the reality is that has been the plan all along this season. It's why Chicago's brain trust has been scouting the likely top picks in this summer's draft even harder than usual.

It's why Chicago's front office would not have minded if its team gave up the entirety of an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter to a Magic team that literally threw the game away in the final seconds with a chance to win.

Tanking is the kind of dirty business no team is proud of, but it's a necessity given the way the rules are written for the NBA draft -- especially in the wake of recent legislation for the coming years to come in which the odds of landing the top-three picks wo not be weighted the same way as in years past.

Aside from the front office's preference, the Bulls' fan base seems to be onboard with losses in the final two months, as well. When asked in a Twitter poll on Monday night whether they would be more excited to see their team win or lose -- 83 percent of almost 2,000 votes said they would like to see losses.

As the season progresses are Bulls fans more excited when their team ...

Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) February 13, 2018

The biggest problem for the Bulls as they hit the stretch drive is that they might have already knocked themselves out of the top five unless they get some serious luck with the ping pong balls in the Lottery. After starting the season 3-20, the Bulls rattled off seven wins in a row behind Nikola Mirotic and a re-energized group of young players. As happy as the Bulls were to see Mirotic reinvent himself on the floor and parlay his career-best success into a future first-round pick from the New Orleans Pelicans, the catch is that Mirotic's solid play, coupled with the play of Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen, might have pushed the Bulls too far ahead of their tanking compatriots.

Tanking has been big business in the NBA, and a major reason why commissioner Adam Silver has tried to reform the lottery process in the future. But like many teams, the Bulls knew full well what the end of this season would look like as far as teams intentionally trying to lose games. They knew it would be a fight to the bottom because of the chances to draft potential franchise-changing talents such as Duke's Marvin Bagley and Arizona's DeAndre Ayton.

That's what makes Monday's loss (win) tougher to swallow for a majority of fans and executives who saw the bigger picture in play. There is never certainty in selecting 18- or 19-year-old basketball players not named LeBron James, but a loss (win) like this one, to a team like the Magic, pushed the Bulls that much further away from their goal.

Monday's loss (win) marks the end of the rarely seen stretch of three home games in four nights that began with Chicago's best win of the year over Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. Bulls personnel quietly beamed after beating their arch nemesis in Thibodeau and former Chicago star Jimmy Butler. It was a win worth celebrating, even for the hardest-tanking acolytes, because of the emotions involved in the recent breakups between Thibodeau and Butler. The fact that LaVine, the centerpiece of the return the Bulls got back from the Timberwolves, scored 35 and had 15 in the fourth quarter did not hurt either.

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