The Chicago Bulls (38-42) and Atlanta Hawks (36-44) have been intertwined recently. Both clubs have had similarly underwhelming seasons, with unsure futures to boot. On Wednesday, they'll face off in the NBA Play-In Tournament.

The ninth-seeded Bulls are currently favored by 3.5 points, via FanDuel. While this makes sense on paper, as Chicago is slightly ahead of 10th-seeded Atlanta, the Hawks also just got their star point guard Trae Young back from injury. This will instantly make the offense more dynamic, taking some pressure off Dejounte Murray. Who will emerge victorious and have a chance at making noise in the playoffs?

Will either NBA Play-In Tournament team actually go on a run?

Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) shoots against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at United Center.
© Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has been criticized for the Play-In Tournament, as fans, players and pundits alike have questioned its necessity. How many ninth and tenth-seeded teams are actually capable of going on a deep playoff run?

Prominent figures like LeBron James and Mark Cuban have been on record with their disapproval of the tournament, but the NBA hasn't budged, via The Washington Post. The league argued “that the new format’s positives outweighed its negatives because it ‘significantly increased the competitive incentive' for teams up and down the standings,” per the Post's Ben Golliver.

While this is technically true, it's still an uphill battle for any ninth or tenth-seeded teams to do any type of damage in the playoffs. Since the Play-In's inception in 2020, neither seed has been able to win a playoff series. The only Play-In teams to advance were last year's Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, but those teams were the eighth and seventh-seeds in their respective conferences.

Are either the Bulls or Hawks capable of making history? Assuming either team can survive the Play-In and snag the Eastern Conference's eighth seed, they'll have to face the juggernaut Boston Celtics (62-18), who own the best record in the league.

While the Heat did beat the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round last year, they were able to capitalize off of Giannis Antetekounmpo's injury and a generational Jimmy Butler performance. In this case, the Celtics are fully healthy, and neither the Bulls or Hawks can count on getting a Butler-level output from their players.

While Young has proven that he can apply pressure in the playoffs for Atlanta, Boston is formidable on defense. The Celtics rank third in the NBA with a 111.7 defensive rating, so they're unlikely to let “Ice Trae” embarrass them. The Bulls, meanwhile, sport small forward DeMar DeRozan as their top threat. The 34-year-old is scoring 23.9 points a game on 48% shooting, but that's nothing that Boston can't handle.

Of course, the winner of this game will first have to play the loser of the seventh vs. eighth-seed Play-In game before qualifying for the Conference Quarterfinals. If the season ended today, that would be either the Heat or the Philadelphia 76ers, and either team would be tough to beat. The Heat are always a threat with Butler and Bam Adebayo on the floor, and the Sixers just got Joel Embiid back.

No matter who wins between the Bulls and Hawks, the NBA Play-In Tournament won't fully gain respect until one of these lower-seeded teams finally does significant postseason damage. These teams are not only fighting to save their own seasons, but also to save the controversial contest they're participating in.