[Thanks to long-time contributor and one the last remaining Kirk Hinrich fans wjb1492 for today's game preview. We need previews for this week, so sign up if you can -yfbb]
8:00 PM Central - WGN
My preview mood is stuck somewhere between the euphoria of turkey and 5 straight days off work, and the memory of the 3-game losing streak. With any luck, tonight's game against Milwaukee will cap off a great holiday weekend with a rousing victory against our old friend/enemy, Scott Skiles. The Bucks are on a 2-game losing streak of their own, dropping games at Miami (understandable) and Charlotte (why are they messing with our pick?) - but, they still lead the Central by a game and a half. The good news is that they've mostly beaten average to below average teams; in fact, the combined records of the teams the Bucks have beaten is a lousy .361.
(Hold on to that - under no circumstances do you want to know the combined record of the teams the Bulls have beaten. And we certainly don't want to compare the records of teams we have lost to!)
I've gathered that the in thing these days is to compare the starters at each position. However, I think we can all agree that in most cases, this will result in advantage: opponent for the 1, 2, and 4 spots, and advantage: Bulls for the 3, 5 and coach. Just a cursory look at the Bucks suggests the only possible variance on that pattern is at Power Forward - the Bucks continue to start a seriously struggling Ilyasova (5.5 PER and a negative net rating, after a good season last year), so Carlos should arguably be favored for once. (Either that, or he'll help Ilyasova break out of the slump....)
In spite of the struggles of Bulls' starters, the 5-man lineup as a whole has been an overall success, with a cumulative +22 so far on the season. For a starting lineup, though, they don't play all that much together, averaging just a little under 17 minutes per game. Thibs has experimented with different combinations down the stretch, leading the media to ask if a change in the starting lineup was at hand. (It's not, at least for now.) The bench has had some rough nights, but looked better in the last game.
Believe it or not, the Bucks starting lineup has played even fewer minutes as a group than the Bulls. Although the same 5 players have started every game, that lineup is only playing an average of 10 minutes per game and posting a -5 as a unit. Unlike Thibs, who has continued to express confidence in his players, Skiles, For the Bucks, the bench has been the strength this year.
These teams have a lot in common, aside from the silly stuff like both starting with a "B" and geographic proximity and the Skiles/Boylan combo. Both are statistically better on defense than offense (Bucks D-11th, O-17th; Bulls D-5th, O-25th). Both love the jumper (Bulls 68%; Bucks 66% of shots). Both have some lineup issues. Both have seriously intense coaches who rarely smile. Both will be looking to stop a losing streak tonight.
[ed. note: I'll throw in something I found interesting I read today: the Bucks surprisingly lead the league in defensive rebound percentage, behind a steady center in Sam Dalembert and a lot of long-armed PFs with Udoh, Sanders, Henson, and to a lesser extent Ilyasova. I guess give Skiles credit for not sticking with Drew Gooden? -yfbb]
This is the front half of a home and home, so the Central is there for the taking if we want it bad enough to play like an NBA team and win them. I'll go with Bulls 88 - Bucks 82, and Skiles' head explodes first.
Fun with splits - Carlos and Taj have not missed a free throw on Saturday yet. On the other hand, Saturday has been Kirk's worst shooting day by far (5.9%)
And don't forget to check out the action at Brew Hoop!