[Thanks to Alex for today's game preview -yfbb]
Tonight, your Chicago Bulls (22-14) look to redeem consecutive double-digit losses (coming after a 6-game win-streak) by felling a Milwaukee Bucks squad (15-24) that, instead of taking a leap forward this season, took three steps back. This season, they've found themselves firmly ensconced in the dregs of the Eastern Conference, being leapfrogged by other young, ascendant talents (Detroit, Orlando, the resurgent Pacers). Of course, there's no guaranteeing the Bulls can win this game. Last night, they dropped a contest against the now Paul Pierce-free Washington Wizards, whose season has been even more disappointing, relative to expectations, than Milwaukee's. But the Bulls didn't just lose. They got flat-out embarrassed at home, suffering their second straight double-digit loss and surrendering 110+ points (also for the second straight game) in the process. Did I mention Washington was without two starters (Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat) and two rotation bench cogs (Kris Humphries, Alan Anderson) but with an all-too-healthy Nene? I didn't? Well, did you really want to be reminded of that?
Doomed by a stilted, lethargic defense (the speed differential between Derrick Rose and John Wall was exposed and proved to be more pronounced than ever) and a general lack of ball movement (Chicago had 18 assists vs. Washington's 31), the Hoibulls raised serious concerns about their competence when Jimmy Butler isn't absolutely on fire. To clarify Butler "on fire" incorporates his abilities on both sides of the ball. Butler is 14-of-32 (43.7%) from the field over the past two games, which is totally fine, albeit nothing special. He had, however, been shooting an excellent-for-a-wing 49.5% from the field during the Bulls' 6-game win streak from December 28th through January 7th (and this included an ignominious 2-of-7 shooting outing in Toronto, where his counterpart DeMar DeRozan went off for 20 points). This fan would posit that Butler's excellence during the streak was a rising tide that lifted all ships -- we got to bear witness to the first significant NBA contributions of Bobby Portis, plus a fun Aaron Brooks throwback game and some decent play from the rest of the Bulls' healthy front court. The only silver lining from last night's frustrating loss? Rose's offense (mainly early, before his effectiveness was mired in turnovers): he shot 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-5 from the free throw line (to keep things in perspective, though, I should mention that he had a -26 +/- because, you know, DAT [lack of] DEFENSE DOE).
Maybe a trip down I-94 is just what the doctor ordered. In Win #5 of the Bulls' streak, they handily took down the Bucks 117-106, with Butler boasting a line of 32 points, 10 assists, 2 rebounds and 1 steal, plus Pau Gasol netting 26 points, 11 boards, 3 blocks, and 5 assists. The Bucks' smaller starters all went off, sadly. 6'6" starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams also made mince meat of Derrick Rose, unfortunately, grabbing 20 points and 12 dimes. Butler's man Khris Middleton had 26 points, 7 assists and 4 boards. Giannis Antetokounmpo's mark had 18 points, 7 boards, 4 steals and 2 assists. The big difference was interior defense, as the Bulls' Jo-less front court suffocated the Bucks' less-than-intimidating bigs, Greg Monroe and that other disappointing recent Simeon alum, Jabari Parker. The Bucks' bench could be significantly depleted tomorrow, as their two key reserve off-guards O.J. Mayo (left hamstring injury) and Jerryd Bayless (left ankle sprain) are questionable, and their main back-up point guard Grevis Vasquez is out for two to three more months with a bone spur injury. But even with these back court gimme's, it's hard to know what to expect from these hot-and-cold Bulls.
Hey, by the way, did you know that Mike Dunleavy Jr. IS STILL ON THIS TEAM?
Oh you didn't?
It's okay, I forgot too. Go Bulls.
Prognosis: On paper, you'd think this shouldn't be much of a contest, with or without decent defense from our back court. But in practice... we could lose by 15 again. I say we lose, but that it's one of those "fun" close losses we had gotten acclimated to pre-streak -- no more than a 5-point margin.
Tip: 7 p.m. CST, televised on Comcast Sports Net (and NBA-TV for you out-of-towners), and broadcast on ESPN AM-1000 radio.