CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls kick off the 2023-24 season with a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 25, then host the Toronto Raptors two days later before embarking on their first trip of the year.
Last season’s opener took a left turn for the Bulls when Zach LaVine was named a late scratch due to load management — which LaVine and coach Billy Donovan insisted was planned in the preseason — as he eased back from a left knee injury. LaVine went on to record one of the strongest seasons of his career, and he’ll need to improve upon that performance after the Bulls retained the majority of their roster to focus on their maximum-contract star.
The focus of the home opener likely will land on who nabbed the starting point guard job — perhaps new signing Jevon Carter, who joined the Bulls from the Milwaukee Bucks. Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu also will be vying for the position.
Here are some key dates for the season.
Nov. 3: First game of the In-Season Tournament
The Bulls will play their first game of the inaugural tournament against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 3, the first of four games against their Eastern Conference Group C opponents. They also will face the Orlando Magic on Nov. 17, the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 24 and the Boston Celtics on Nov. 28.
The winner of East Group C — and one other wild-card team from the East — will advance to the knockout round of the tournament.
Nov. 13: First outing against the Milwaukee Bucks
Facing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks always will be a must-win — and must-watch — game for the Bulls, who will head north for their first matchup against their regional foe. The teams split their four-game series last season.
Dec. 12: Bulls host the reigning champs
The new-car smell will have long worn off the championship gear when Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets come to town — but the reigning champs still will be a measuring post for the rest of the league. The Bulls also play the Nuggets on Nov. 4 in Denver.
Dec. 14 and 16: Double duty in Miami
The Bulls load up against the Heat in a pair of games in three days. The last time the teams saw each other, the Heat edged the Bulls in a comeback win in the play-in tournament for the last playoff spot in the East — then went on an underdog tear as the No. 8 seed all the way to the Finals, where they fell to the Denver Nuggets in five games.
Dec. 21: Victor Wembanyama comes to town
The highly touted rookie will make his first appearance at the United Center when the Bulls host the San Antonio Spurs. Wembanyama was selected with the No. 1 pick after a season of towering expectations built around his 7-foot-5 frame — but he’ll have to wait until the regular season to prove if he can live up to the hype.
Feb. 18: All-Star weekend wraps up in Indianapolis
Indianapolis will host All-Star Weekend, which will take place Feb. 16-18. The Bulls sent two players to All-Star Weekend last season in Salt Lake City: DeMar DeRozan as an East reserve for his sixth appearance overall and Dosunmu as a last-minute replacement for the Rising Stars game.
LaVine, who had a standout second half last season, will be eyeing his third All-Star selection.
March 23: Home stand against Boston Celtics
The Celtics appear to pose one of the toughest tests in the East yet again, retaining the bulk of their stars including Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Less than four weeks ahead of the playoffs, this game will be a perfect litmus test for the Bulls — if they’re in position to make the postseason.
It will be the third matchup between the teams, who meet Nov. 28 in Boston and Feb. 22 at the United Center.
April 11-14: 3-game road sprint to the finish
The Bulls will face a challenging final stretch if they need to clinch a postseason spot in the last three games of the season.
The sprint starts with back-to-back nights against the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards on April 11 and 12 and ends against the Knicks in New York to cap regular-season play.
None of these three opponents are expected to be world-beaters, but the physical toll of travel will add a hurdle to overcome.