Stomaching two losses in a row is never an easy thing to do as a fan. This rings especially true if both games are blowout losses. It rings even more true if one of these losses comes from a playoff rival and another comes from one of the more lowly teams in the entire league. So despite a stretch for the Bulls that included wins over contenders like the Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Raptors, and Rockets, fans of the team are now in crisis mode (again). After shooting 33% and 38% in the past two games respectively and 38.8% over their last seven, maybe there is legitimate reason for concern. It won't get any easier tonight against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks, who come into the game actually ranked ahead of Cleveland at 2nd in the Central Division with a record of 20-18 despite a season-ending ACL injury to Jabari Parker.
As previously mentioned, Milwaukee is enjoying a major bounce-back season while posting their best winning percentage of the decade thus far. Coach Jason Kidd seems to have reinvigorated the Bucks by turning them into a great defensive team, as they currently rank in the top 10 in points allowed per game (98.2) while also boasting the 4th highest defensive efficiency rating in the league at 99.5. They also rank in the top 10 in assist ratio (17.7) and true shooting percentage (54.5%), however their offensive numbers are more disappointing, ranking 20th in offensive efficiency (101.2) and 19th in points per game with 98.9. They are also not a very good rebounding team as their team leader is Zaza Pachulia at a mere 6.4 rpg.
This unfortunately bodes badly for the Bulls as it would appear that the Bucks could very easily guard them well enough to force them into another sloppy shooting night. When you couple this with the recent tendency we've seen from the Bulls to play down to their competition (and given that this is the second game of yet another back to back), this starts to look more and more like another upset win for a team that the Bulls should be beating.
Keep this in mind, however: The Bulls have never lost three consecutive games during the Thibodeau era when Derrick Rose has been active, a remarkable feat that stretches all the way back to Rose's MVP season. Thibs has consistently made his teams aware of when it's really time to take care of business, and more often than not the players come out with a sense of urgency that we haven't seen in either of the previous games. Playing at home should provide some extra energy, and even if a shooting slump continues, we should see a renewed effort defensively given the Bucks' offensive struggles. It should be noted, however, that teams with great passing (see: Wizards last night) have given the Bulls' defense fits more often than not this season, so if the Bulls don't come out ready to play they could once again find themselves in an early hole.
I would expect a gritty game this evening by the visitors from United Center North and the Bulls. That's not saying that I'm hoping Kirk Hinrich plays extended minutes, just that this is going to be much more of a hard-fought battle than people may expect. Look for the Bulls' frontcourt to try and have a bounce-back game against a Bucks team with an extreme lack of depth in that regard outside of their wings. If the Bulls can force Milwaukee into their own slump and make them pay for their misses with rebounds, then the game should come naturally and the Bulls should manage to come away with the win. But if the Bulls come in expecting an easy victory, get caught off guard by the Bucks' crisp ball movement, and continue their own shooting slump, Milwaukee will unsurprisingly come away with the win.
You would like to think, however, that after two extremely uninspired efforts, Thibs will have the Bulls come out with a chip on their shoulder tonight and do whatever they can to run the Bucks out of the building. They're certainly capable of doing so, but as we've seen recently, being capable of winning and winning are two different things. Hopefully the Bulls revert back to the latter, and given that they are undefeated when I write the game preview, I'd like to think that the Bulls' recent streak of sloppiness will end tonight with a nice win over a division rival.
Injury Note: Mike Dunleavy will miss tonight's matchup with his former team as he continues to nurse his ankle back to health. This will be his fifth consecutive missed game.