Paul Sullivan: Play-in fever missing for Jerry Reinsdorf’s Bulls, while his White Sox rely on a milkshake and a prayer

CHICAGO — It was a little over a month ago that Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan compared the team to an episode of “Dateline,” the news magazine that focuses on true crime mysteries.

In your typical “Dateline” episode, the big reveal comes at the end after plenty of twists and turns in the investigation. Ditto your typical Bulls’ win, where DeRozan rescues them in the final minutes after a cold start that seemed to spell doom.

“It’s a crazy thing, but it’s big because we kind of relish in those moments and take it to another level,” DeRozan said. “We try to continue to stress on not continuously putting ourselves in a tough position to dig ourselves out of a hole. It’s tough.”

The Bulls are 27-17 in clutch games — defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the score was within five points — the highest win total in the NBA. DeRozan finished second in the league in clutch points with 182, just behind Golden State’s Steph Curry (189). The two stars figure to compete for the NBA’s Clutch Player of the Year award.

And now this mysterious Bulls’ season has come down to a do-or-die game on Wednesday night at the United Center, where the Atlanta Hawks will try to put the dagger into them in the first play-in tournament game. If they win, the Bulls get a chance to do it again on Friday.

You can almost hear “Dateline” narrator Keith Morrison announcing the shocking twist that serves as a cliffhanger going into the final commercial break, before all the loose ends get tied up and the nightly news starts.

Can DeRozan do his Clutch Cargo impersonation one last time in what could be his final home game as a Bull? Will coach Billy Donovan give a “Do it for Thelma” speech for inspiration? Or will this be the end of the story for this year’s edition, a whodunit where every viewer knew what would happen before the first commercial break?

We’ll be right back with our answers.

While play-in fever hasn’t captured Chicago’s imagination, at least the Bulls will be playing past the end of the regular season, which none of our other four legacy teams have accomplished since the 2021 White Sox.

This might not be the Dark Ages of Chicago sports, but it’s about as bad as we’ve seen since 1978, arguably our worst sports year in history.

Making matters worse, the current White Sox team is off to its worst start in their 124-year history and drawing comparisons to the 1962 New York Mets, who went 40-120 to finish with the most losses of any major league team in modern history.

Sox Park has become a morgue, and things are so grim manager Pedro Grifol couldn’t even come up with a valid excuse for sitting Eloy Jiménez, his best available hitter, on the day Jiménez came off the injured list. After rookie Nick Nastrini turned in an impressive outing in his debut, Grifol couldn’t even confirm Nastrini would remain in the rotation.

It’s almost as if the Sox asked Grifol to say the exact opposite of everything fans wanted to hear.

At least Grifol had found a place for Jiménez in Tuesday’s lineup before the game was postponed due to rain. The Sox entered Tuesday hitting a league-worst .196, looking up with envy at the proverbial Mendoza line. They had already been shut out six times, scoring a league-low 34 runs in 16 games. Saving on fireworks was never so easy for Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

Unlike the Bulls, the Sox are the antithesis of a “Dateline” episode. The outcome of a Sox game is usually revealed as soon as the opposing team scores a couple of runs in the first couple of innings. The only suspense remaining is what Ozzie Guillen will say on the postgame show.

The common denominator, of course, is Reinsdorf, who serves as chairman of both teams. Wednesday should be a very busy day for the Chairman, as the Sox take on the Kansas City Royals in a rainout-induced doubleheader on the South Side before the Bulls’ 8:30 p.m. start against the Hawks on the West Side.

Hopefully, Reinsdorf can get a campfire milkshake to go, then stream an episode of “Dateline” in his U.C. office before taking a little nap between games. Just a suggestion.

Reinsdorf has given his son, Michael, carte blanche to run the Bulls while he concentrates on driving Sox fans nuts with an awful team and hints of moving without a new, subsidized ballpark. A chip off the old block, Michael Reinsdorf appears quite comfortable with a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2015 but still manages to “compete.”

It’s a family tradition like no other. At least Jerry and Michael can be consoled by the fact they haven’t heard any “Sell the team” chants at the United Center, which is usually filled, win or lose. The Bulls finished with the highest average attendance in 2023-24 for the third straight year and the second straight sub-.500 season.

Fortunately for the Reinsdorfs, the Bulls’ fan base consists of a much higher percentage of Cubs fans than Sox fans. That means more disposable income and a greater tolerance for watching mediocrity. And, as the 39-43 record suggests, the Bulls are nothing if not mediocre. Two of Detroit’s 14 wins came against them, which should have immediately disqualified them from any postseason.

Only a money-making NBA playoff gimmick would allow the Bulls to continue, and that’s exactly what the play-in tournament games are.

The crazy part of this Bulls’ season is that despite another sub-.500 team, it’s a likable group that plays very entertaining games, led by DeRozan, who has become the most beloved Bulls player since Derrick Rose.

DeRozan will be a free agent but has said he wants to return. No matter what happens in the play-ins, the Bulls must do whatever it takes this summer to keep him, and then figure out how to build around DeRozan and Coby White, a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Most teams would’ve blown up the roster after a season like the Bulls had in 2022- 23, but executive vice-president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas doubled down, then did nothing at the ’24 trade deadline to improve their chances of making the playoffs.

“This particular team showed they can compete with the best,” Karnišovas said that day. “And that’s what I’m excited about.”

Of course you are.

Bulls fans have managed to curb their enthusiasm, but they’ll no doubt be watching anyway.

Like any episode of “Dateline,” you can’t leave until the big reveal.