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Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

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AP

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

When your team is no longer in playoff contention it's always a good time to look forward. The Bulls finally have a direction after trading Jimmy Butler on draft night and will go to a youth movement to build the talent pool back up. And with free agency pretty much wrapped up (although Derrick Rose is making noise) it's time to look at where Fred Hoiberg's group stands among the teams looking for the most ping-pong balls on Lottery night next May.

The numbers in parentheses are the projected over-under win totals in Las Vegas:

Brooklyn Nets (20.5 wins)

The good news? Brooklyn had an excellent offseason. The bad news? It's going to take way more than one good string of moves to fix this mess. In dealing Brook Lopez and a first-round pick for D'Angelo Russell, the Nets gave away their best player for one with a bright future. Drafting Jarrett Allen was another solid move, but he's barely 19 and is more of a project than anything right now. Taking on DeMarre Carroll's and Timofey Mozgov's contracts provide them more talent, but neither should get much playing time during the youth movement. It may be tough for this team to get to 20 wins.

Phoenix Suns (25.5 wins)

There might not be a better young core in the Western Conference than in Phoenix. With Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson (all lottery picks) leading the way, there's optimism about the Suns' future. It just might not lead to many victories in 2017-18. Bender is 19 and the others are 20, and veterans Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler are prime trade candidates. Phoenix is going somewhere, but expect them to pick in the top 3 a year from now.

Chicago Bulls (28.5 wins)

It's difficult right now to project how many wins the Bulls will tally. Restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic is still unsigned, and there are questions about whether Dwyane Wade will be bought out at some point during the season. Zach LaVine's timetable on returning from ACL surgery is still unknown, and the Bulls will take a cautious approach in bringing him back. Robin Lopez could also be dealt at some point. The young guns are going to get all the run they can handle, helping the rebuild while not doing much in the win department.

Sacramento Kings (30.5 wins)

The Kings went 8-17 after dealing DeMarcus Cousins, which projects to a 26-win season over an 82-game span. The good news is Scott Perry made this roster a whole lot better before leaving for the Knicks. Drafting De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason III, and signing George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph has this roster looking as deep as it's been in quite some time. They're in the West, which makes things more difficult, but they're a good bet to make serious improvement in 2017.

Indiana Pacers (31.5 wins)

Like the Bulls, the Pacers began their rebuilding phase after dealing a star in Paul George. Indiana grabbed an established two-way guard in Victor Oladipo (25 years old) and 21-year-old Domantas Sabonis, Potential trade candidates are Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic. Myles Turner is a budding star, while young players in T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu and Glenn Robinson III will get plenty of playing time. Those four matchups against the Bulls could loom large as far as the Lottery balls are concerned.

Los Angeles Lakers (32.5 wins)

It looks like the Lakers hit on both their first-round draft picks, as Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma had monster Summer Leagues. Add Brook Lopez, who was outstanding last season, to a talented young core and it appears the Lakers are trending in the right direction. It wouldn't be surprising to see Los Angeles compete for a playoff spot. Plus, the Lakers have no incentive to tank, as their first-round pick in 2018 will go to Philadelphia or Boston. Expect them to move past the Bulls in the win total.

New York Knicks (32.5 wins)

Not sure about this one. It still seems there's a good chance Carmelo Anthony gets dealt, and depending on what they get back in a deal their second best player (behind Kristaps Porzingis) will be $71 million man Tim Hardaway Jr. They won 31 games a year ago, and it's hard to imagine they're better without Anthony, regardless of how inefficient he's become.

Atlanta Hawks (34.5 wins)

No team in the league took a bigger hit from where they were a year ago to now than the Hawks. After winning 43 wins and earning the No. 5 seed in the East, Atlanta lost Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. to free agency and traded Dwight Howard. Essentially it's Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and a ton of question marks. Taurean Prince, DeAndre' Bembry and rookie John Collins are a good core, but this is going to be an ugly season in the ATL.

Dallas Mavericks (34.5 wins)

We'll go ahead and assume restricted free agent Nerlens Noel returns. So, too, is Dirk Nowitzki back for another year, and the Mavs look like they have a steal in rookie Dennis Smith Jr. They've entered a rebuild, which owner Mark Cuban admitted, but their talent across the board might be enough to get them to the 33 wins they had a year ago. Playing in the West makes it more difficult to project, but they should tally more wins than the Bulls simply on their talent pool.

Orlando Magic (34.5 wins)

This Las Vegas win total is a little confusing. Orlando made nice moves in the offseason, drafting Jonathan Isaac and signing Jonathon Simmons. But that's about it, and the Magic were lucky to win 29 games a year ago. True, they're in a depleted Eastern Conference but it's hard to see Frank Vogel turning around the franchise this quickly. That being said, their young players (Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon) have NBA experience, so maybe they make a jump and it results in wins.

Bulls take care of business against Magic, await playoff fate in final game

Bulls take care of business against Magic, await playoff fate in final game

No matter the score or how impressive the Bulls' end-to-end 122-75 win was over the Orlando Magic, the only thing it clinched was a better point differential, as they are now through 81 games and needing one more to qualify for the NBA Playoffs.

It certainly looked pretty, as the sight of another game with double-digit 3-point makes as well as shooting over 50 percent was necessary, along with Dwyane Wade playing another 22 minutes to get himself in a rhythm before the playoffs.

If the playoffs happen, because the Miami Heat beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime while the Bulls' game had yet to go final, meaning it could take a win over the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday to clinch a playoff spot.

If there's a position you'd want to be in — as unnecessary as it seems — you'd want to come off a game where six players were in double figures. Assists were tossed around like rice at a wedding as the Bulls looked cohesive for the night, compared to a lethargic showing — something the Bulls are wont to do.

Having 33 assists on 48 field goals is set to be a recipe for success against most teams and the Bulls needed a wire-to-wire win to restore some confidence headed into the regular-season finale Wednesday.

"If we don't win the game, we don't deserve to be in. Simple as that," Wade said. "We took care of business, we beat a team we were supposed to beat here on our home floor, and it's the same thing we're supposed to do on Wednesday."

Robin Lopez led the Bulls with 18 points and Jimmy Butler scored 17 in 31 minutes, in a game that seemed over shortly after 7:15 local time.

"I think the big thing was our energy right out the gate," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That's something we talk about. Today we got out with the ball and played with pace and our guys were really unselfish with the ball."

Against one of the more youthful and athletic clubs in the league, albeit an underachieving one, the Bulls looked like the young and athletic bunch for the first time in a long time.

It's not to say Wade looked 10 years younger but he's feeling closer and closer to his usual form, while not trying to disrupt the ball movement and spacing style that was established in his absence.

"Tonight was a good game for everyone to be involved and feel good about themselves," Wade said. "We look forward to playing the team again that stole a game from us a couple days ago."

Hoiberg said: "I thought he looked comfortable tonight. His rhythm was better and you could tell his legs were better. He just had to get that first one out of the way."

Getting out of the break early and often, the Bulls made the contest look like target practice, throwing multiple alley-oops, complete with uncontested breakaways and backdoor cuts against a defense that displayed an indifference similar to a team that longs for Wednesday to come and go as quick as possible.

Taking a lead that reached 30 before the half and extended to as much as 47 in the second half, little time, energy and emotion was wasted before the eyes of the important people turned to what was going on in South Beach.

Off and running for the better part of 48 minutes, the Bulls wasted no time, looking nothing like the inconsistent bunch that took turns showing up or falling asleep last week on their east coast swing.

Jerian Grant had a career-high 11 assists in the absence of Rajon Rondo, who is still out with a right wrist sprain — a sprain Hoiberg deemed "significant" in the pregame — and with no real sign of a definitive return.

Grant has averaged 15.6 points, seven assists and four rebounds in three games since being reinserted as starter.

"Jerian has been great," Hoiberg said. "It's obviously huge shoes to fill with Rajon out. Jerian has done a terrific job of going out and playing with confidence. He made the right play and right read."

Making more of an impression for the playoffs than one might've expected — should the Bulls qualify — Grant made the case he should be on the floor no matter who on the roster is available.

"It feels good to go in and play well after being taken out of the rotation, especially these last couple games that we need to win. It means a lot for me," Grant said. "It's one game and we're in."

Just as things have been all season, the answers on the Bulls won't come until the final day of the regular season, it appears, where opportunity or disaster is at their door.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls' playoff push continues against Magic tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls' playoff push continues against Magic tonight on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Orlando Magic tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Let's play two. With only two regular season games remaining on the schedule, it's do-or-die for the Bulls. Luckily or unluckily (still trying to figure it out), the combined record of the team's last two opponents is 48-112. Fred Hoiberg's team controls its own destiny, which should make things interesting against the Magic tonight and Nets in the finale. 

2. Turn back the clocks. Now would be a great time for March Mirotic to return. Nikola is shooting just 39 percent from the field in five April games, down a full 10 percent from March. For the Bulls to seal that playoff spot, Mirotic has to channel his scorching March alter ego. 

3. Dwyane Wade. There was some noise that the Bulls' offense functioned better when Wade wasn't playing. That's probably an overstatement, but there is something to be said about the movement that was being created without No. 3 on the floor. In his return, he scored 14 points and collected seven rebounds in 24 minutes. The Bulls need an efficient Wade to get back to winning. 

4. Check Elfrid Payton. The Magic haven't committed to Elfrid Payton as their point guard of the future, but the 2014 first-round pick has quietly had a nice two month stretch. Since the beginning of March, Payton is shooting over 50 percent and averaging over eight assists per game. Keeping Payton out of the lane will be big for the Bulls' defense, especially since he's not a three-point shooter. 

5. Take care of business. Sans Payton and Nikola Vucevic, the Magic are thin. Jimmy Butler and the Bulls should be able to run past them. Given the game is at the United Center should only help, too. These are the games you have to win, so let's see if Chicago will take care of business or continue to be an enigma.