The final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is still within reach for the Bulls, but the team is uncertain of just how involved All-Star forward Pau Gasol will be in the pursuit.
Swelling in the right knee has forced the 35-year-old to miss five of Chicago’s last seven games, resulting in a 4-3 record and allowing the Pistons to take a two-game lead for the eighth seed in the playoff race.
Even when Gasol has been in the lineup, a minutes restriction of 25 minutes has been imposed, as the team is trying to alleviate any further damage to his knee.
With 11 games left, the Bulls are hoping Gasol’s presence will be enough to avoid failing to qualify for the post season for the first time in seven years.
Minuets before tipoff Saturday night in Orlando, the team received a bit of good news, as Gasol participated in the teams’ morning shootaround, and then was confirmed Gasol to be in the lineup.
“Pau will play tonight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ll see how he’s doing, but we will try and keep it right around (25 minutes). That’s what the plan is.”
The Bulls desperately need a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive, as ESPN BPI Playoff Odds give the team a 19.1 percent chance to qualify for the post season.
Chicago plays five games in seven days beginning Monday with a home game against the Hawks, with a pair of back-to-back contests, as the Bulls play in Indiana Tuesday night, then host Detroit Saturday and play the Bucks Sunday night.
Each contest is an opportunity to further evaluate exactly how extensive the knee injury is, but the team is still trying to determine just how many minutes Gasol will be available to play.
For the year, Gasol is averaging 16.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game, joining DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside as the only players in the leauge averaging at least 11 rebounds and two blocks a night.
“We will take a look at it on a game-by-game basis,” Hoiberg said.