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Bulls vs. Bucks preview and thread: Mr. One-Game Suspension arrives at the UC

Giannis will probably make mincemeat of the Bulls’ defense, but that’s not the real story, is it?

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls, reeling to the tune of three consecutive defeats thanks to a listless defense and fitfully effective offense, seem destined to lose a fourth straight tonight, on the second night of a back-to-back against the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.

In last night’s 130-124 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago’s Big Three of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic enjoyed pretty efficient offensive turns, all scoring 21 points or more on 50% shooting or better. The Bulls ultimately just could not contain Hawks guards Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter. The Bulls’ issues defending guards have been a problem for a while, thanks to the extended absences of starting point guard Lonzo Ball and sixth man Alex Caruso.

Wait, why’s Alex Caruso hurt again?

Oh, I remember now.

Because of this maniac.

Tonight marks the first time one Grayson Allen arrives at the United Center since leveling AC with a dangerous mid-air hack, subsequently breaking the guard’s wrist. It was a cheap shot and could have yielded a much scarier injury than just a wrist fracture that has sidelined Caruso for five weeks and counting. Why the NBA felt like a one-game suspension was sufficient punishment remains a mystery to us.

Reserve center/power forward Tristan Thompson, who was a Sacramento King when Milwaukee’s starting shooting guard tried to murder Caruso in January, seems likely to at least put the fear of God into Allen today.

“Take one of my guys out like that, we’re gonna have issues,” Thompson said last night of the incident, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “So I’m pretty sure the United Center is gonna be rocking tomorrow. I think guys have (it) in the back of their head. And if guys wanna play chippy let’s play chippy.”

Head coach Billy Donovan indicated in comments made after last night’s Hawks loss that the team would take stock of Zach LaVine’s troublesome left knee before making a determination on whether or not he would play tonight. Our fingers are crossed, but if Zach can’t go, it’s safe to say we should expect DeMVP to take a lot of his patented pump-fakes in the fourth quarter if the game is even remotely close.

Let’s be real, a hostile Bulls home crowd’s response to Allen and the possibility of some physical play early could very well be the most compelling storyline tomorrow. The Bulls seem to struggle against awesome teams this season, though some of that issue may be the result of the club’s snake-bit injury luck. In this current losing streak, the Bulls fell to the 43-21 Memphis Grizzlies in a close game before getting absolutely demolished by the 42-22 Miami Heat. At 30-32, the Hawks are fairly mediocre this year, but even still, Chicago lost to them, too.

Across their last five games, the Bulls rank 26th in defensive rating at 116.6, and their middling 113.5 offensive rating across the same time frame slots them in at 17th league-wide. That won’t get it done against one of the league’s best teams.

The Bucks have struggled a bit in 2022 without Brook Lopez anchoring their post defense and now a thinned-out perimeter rotation sans injured guards Pat Connaughton and George Hill. They are a middling 14-12 so far during the calendar year. But Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are all rolling, and their clamp-down defense should neutralize Chicago’s starry offense. Given both the Bucks’ pedigree and the Bulls’ terrible week, Milwaukee seems likely to win tonight.

Tonight represents a pretty significant moment in the Bulls’ continued slide down the Eastern Conference standings. After starting the week as the second seed in the East, the Bulls seem doomed to slip to a 39-25 record, identical to that of the current fourth-seeded Bucks, assuming the Bucks secure the W. The Bulls next play the Sixers on Monday, and have literally never beaten a healthy Joel Embiid in ten tries, so it seems that by early next week they will suddenly be the East’s fourth seed, with the Celtics (currently the fifth seed due to a 38-27 record) hot on their heels.

Obviously the Bulls’ slip among the East’s elite needs to be taken with all the grains of salt, as they have been missing three key rotation players, including their two best defensive guards, for a good chunk of the season now.

Injuries:

Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams remain sidelined for Chicago. Zach LaVine, now managing a knee that might require offseason surgery, seems probable to play on the second night of a back-to-back, though Billy Donovan noted the Bulls were going to gauge how the knee responds after last night’s Hawks contest.

Milwaukee will be missing guards Pat Connaughton (right finger surgery) and George Hill (neck soreness). Starting center Brook Lopez has missed all but one game this season due to a back injury that eventually required surgery.

Game Time:

6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN and NBC Sports Chicago

Odds:

As of this writing, the Bucks are favored to win by a 5 point spread. The over/under for the cumulative game score is currently listed at 240. (All info via the Action Network)