The Bulls were already in deep trouble after getting smoked by the Bucks twice in Chicago to go down 3-1 in the series. But now everything feels even more hopeless heading into Wednesday’s Game 5.
Tuesday brought news that Zach LaVine had entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols again, making it the third time this has happened over the last two seasons. LaVine has indeed been ruled out for Game 5, likely ending his season.
The Bulls star wasn’t playing particularly well in this series as he deals with a knee injury and a ferocious Bucks defense, but if this is it, this is a brutal way to go out as he heads into free agency. The last few months have been real rough for LaVine, and this could be the final dagger for his season.
Then there’s Alex Caruso, who got elbowed in the head by Jevon Carter while playing defense in Game 4. Caruso went into the concussion protocols and has also been ruled out for Game 5. This leaves the Bulls without their best defensive player again after he missed so much time in the regular season.
Again, the Bulls’ chances to win Game 5 to extend this series were already slim, but now it’s really hard to see how they win or even compete given these latest health woes after two shellackings in Chicago. The Bulls were competitive and even stole Game 2 in Milwaukee, but some of that seems to have been a function of the Bucks just not being locked in. They locked in on the road and will surely be focused on ending the Bulls’ season at Fiserv Forum.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been totally dominant all series, and he finally got more consistent help from his teammates at the United Center. Jrue Holiday stepped up and was more efficient while also taking care of the ball better, while Bulls fans are probably seeing Grayson Allen and Bobby Portis in their nightmares after their recent performances. Allen totaled 49 points on 11-of-14 3-point shooting over Games 3 and 4. Portis notched consecutive double-doubles and got into it with Zach LaVine before getting into it with Stacey King on Twitter.
For Game 5, perhaps the Bulls do less selling out to stop Giannis and try to guard Allen and the others better. It’s obviously a pick-your-poison situation that worked fine in the first two games but totally backfired in the last two as Antetokounmpo picked the Bulls apart. Or maybe the Bulls will just figure that level of hot outside shooting won’t keep up.
Offensively, the Bucks will surely continue to sell out on DeMar DeRozan and dare others to beat them, a plan that worked for them in Chicago. With no LaVine, I expect DeRozan to force the issue a bit more, but his teammates will have to hit the open looks from outside the Bucks are often willing to concede. Nikola Vucevic obviously needs to play well, and it would be nice to see Patrick Williams build on his strong finish to Game 4. Billy Donovan will also have some rotation decisions to make with LaVine and Caruso out. Maybe Coby White will finally have that Coby White Game we’ve been waiting for after some ugly struggles.
This is almost certainly going to be the end of the line for the Bulls, and if it is, let’s just hope they go out with some level of dignity. It has been disappointing to see them struggle so badly offensively in this series (by far the worst offense in the playoffs), and it would be a bummer for this season to end on such a dismal note.
Injury Report: Zach LaVine (health and safety protocols), Alex Caruso (concussion protocols), Lonzo Ball (knee) and Matt Thomas (leg contusion) are all out for the Bulls.
Khris Middleton remains out for the Bucks with his MCL sprain. George Hill has been upgraded to questionable with an abdominal strain.
Game Time: 6:30 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago and TNT
Odds: The Bulls are a massive 12-point underdog and +600 on the moneyline. The total is set at 217.5.