[Thanks to arjoseph for today's game preview. Just posted many more openings if you're interested in doing a game preview. And if you're interested in going to the actual games, use our partners if you want Chicago Bulls Tickets. -yfbb]
The Milwaukee Bucks: always an usher, never a groomsman.
The groomsmen get to wear those fancy tuxedos, ride in the limo, walk up the aisle, and sit at the top table (i.e., go to the playoffs). They get more attention from all the available women at the wedding that might be looking for companionship that night (playoff revenue). If they’re lucky, they might even find love with that cute bridesmaid they escorted to the front of the church (a shot, however long, at a championship). The past two years, the Bucks have had to settle for being the guy who shows everyone else their seats. Sure, they’re friends with the bride and groom, and were totally considered for the wedding party, but there are only so many seats at the top table, you know? Somebody needed to be left off. This year, it looks like the Bucks will probably get to dust off that tux from 2009—only to leave the reception early and alone after getting rejected by one of those girls from New York. It’s been a long, lonely era in the land of sausage and cheese.
Improbably, the Bucks’ chances of making the playoffs have increased during the Boylan era—the team is 8-3 since the Jimster took the helm. Very few teams in the modern era that have relied on their backcourt tandems as much as the Bucks do (and with similar efficiencies from those backcourt mates) have found playoff success. In fact, only two teams with the Bucks’ MO (that is, two perimeter players whose usage rates are at least 24%, whose MPG is at least 30, but whose PERs are less than 19) have made the playoffs before: the 1998-99 Knicks (lost in the Finals in a lockout season) and the 2000-01 Knicks (lost in the first round). Both of those teams relied on the high-usage tandem of Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. The other ten teams to match that description missed the playoffs, and usually won fewer than 30 games.* So this year’s Bucks are ahead of the curve. Other teams have ridden high-usage backcourts to playoff success before (the Spurs with Ginobili and Parker; the Bucks with Ray Allen and Sam Cassell; and the 2004-05 Wizards with Arenas and Larry Hughes)—but each player in those tandems had a PER north of 19 in those years. This year, so far, Monta Ellis (27.4% usage, 15.7 PER) and Brandon Jennings (24.7% usage, 17.7 PER) are nowhere near that. The results of the Ellis-Jennings pairing over the last few years, combined with their contract statuses (Ellis has an ETO for next year and Jennings will be a RFA) have led to trade rumors relating to both players.
While the team revolves around Ellis and Jennings penetrating the defense, the Bucks have been getting increasingly quality minutes from Ersan Ilyasova, Mike "Super White" Dunleavy, and third-year center Larry Sanders. The last time we played the Bucks, Sanders seemed to be everywhere, blocking 7 shots. The 15 blocks recorded by the Bucks in that game were the most by any Bulls opponent in the last three years. We lost. We also lost the meeting before that, relinquishing a 27-point lead to Ilyasova and the rest of Milwaukee’s bench, ultimately losing by 1 in a game that should have been a Bulls blowout. I'm sure everyone remembers that game.
A few things are working in the Bulls’ favor this time, however. First, both of our losses to the Bucks were at home; tonight’s game, like the Bulls victory over the Bucks on November 24, will be in Milwaukee. (It’s so weird that that’s a good thing.) Second, the Bucks are on a back-to-back. (They routed the Pistons last night, so the starters didn’t have to play tons of minutes, but still.)
Things to look for: will Brandon Jennings continue his ridiculous recent hot streak? He has two 30-point games in his last 5 and has been completely scorching from behind the three-point line, shooting .425 from there in January. Will Carlos continue to rip it up versus the Bucks? The Booz is averaging 21 points, 13.7 rebounds, and .551 shooting versus Milwaukee so far this year. Will the Bulls avoid getting 15% of their shots blocked?
On the injury front, it looks like everyone from the Bucks will be playing, and Boozer may be out for the Bulls
Game details: 7:00 Central, CSN-Chicago (and FSN-WI for those north of the border)
*(For those of you interested in the details of the other teams with a high-usage but not-especially-high-efficiency backcourt tandem, here you go:
2009-10 Pistons (Rip and Stuckey) = 27 wins;
2003-04 Wizards (Larry Hughes and Arenas) = 25 wins;
1991-92 Mavs (Derek Harper and Rolando Blackman) = 22 wins;
1995-96 Mavs (Kidd and Jim Jackson) = 26 wins;
1992-93 Pistons (Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars) = 40 wins;
1994-95 Warriors (Sprewell and Tim Hardaway) = 26 wins;
1998-99 Knicks (Sprewell and Houston) = 27-23, lost in Finals;
2000-2001 Knicks (Sprewell and Houston) = 48 wins, lost in first round;
1995-96 76ers (Stackhouse and Vernon Maxwell) = 18 wins;
1996-97 76ers (Stackhouse and Iverson) = 22 wins;
2000-01 Wizards (Rip and Mitch Richmond) = 19 wins;
1981-82 Pistons (Isiah Thomas and John Long) = 39 wins.)