Know the Bulls’ Playoff Enemy, Bucks Edition

Things were a little different the last time the Bulls faced the Bucks in the playoffs. It was in 2015 when Giannis Antetokounmpo was still young (booo that pun -yfbb), and who could forget how this series ended? Giannis was ejected for a dirty mistake over Mike Dunleavy Jr. in a 54-point Bulls win.

That season ended with a loss to the Cavaliers by LeBron James and the firing of Tom Thibodeau, with things going downhill for the rest of the decade in Chicago.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee, it took a few more years, but Giannis quickly became a two-time MVP and the Bucks became a powerhouse, erasing a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals to win the championship. with Giannis as the Finals MVP.

This season, the Bucks have faced something of a championship hangover, starting 6-8 and only sitting at 19-13 by mid-December. Injuries and COVID-19 issues haven’t helped, and Milwaukee’s final record of 51-31 and average differential of more than 3.4 points isn’t as dominant as in previous seasons.

A locked Bucks team is certainly better than this record suggests, and the Bulls have seen it in the last two regular season series matchups. After two competitive losses, the Bulls went on to drop 28 and 21 points respectively. Combining those beatings with Chicago’s generally awful play late in the season and all season against elite teams, everything would suggest this will be a short streak.

But let’s take a closer look at how the Bucks have performed this year and see if there’s any hope against Mike Budenholzer’s team.

Giannis and the Bucks Big 3

Giannis is having another ridiculous season, averaging 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals while shooting 55.3 percent from the field. His 3-point shooting still hasn’t improved (29.3%), but his free throw percentage is back to over 72% on a whopping 11.4 attempts per game and his midrange play. did improve. He shot over 41% from 3-10 feet, 10-16 feet and 16 feet from the 3-point line. So, while the goal is always to force him to take jumpers, he proved more dangerous than ever away from the rim. And, of course, it’s hard to get it away from the rim. Good luck, Patrick Williams and company!

The Bucks outscored opponents by 8.0 points per 100 possessions with Giannis on the court, by, and they were a dominant team when their star trio of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday took the field together. They have played 47 games together this season, going 37-10 in those games and accumulate a net rating of 11.1 in 783 minutes of sharing the floor Meanwhile, the Bulls’ trio of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic was minus-1.1 in 1,206 minutes.

Middleton’s play has dropped this season at both ends of the pitch, but he remains an excellent player who poses match challenges with his size and skill. Holiday is one of the best two-way point guards in the NBA, playing by far his most effective basketball with the Bucks while also playing perimeter defense. This trio is really good and a brutal game for anyone, leading Milwaukee to the No. 3 offense while playing at one of the fastest paces in the NBA.

Brook Lopez looks healthy now

Lopez played the first game of the season, but did not play again until March 14 due to back surgery. It took a little while for Lopez to find his rhythm, but he closed the regular season strong.

This included an absolute humiliation of Vucevic in the last game. While Lopez scored 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, three blocks (multiple stuff straight in Vooch’s face) and two steals, Vucevic shot 3-of-19 from the field and got roasted on the another end. He provided little resistance against Lopez, with the Bucks big man crushing him inside and even reaching the line nine times. When Lopez has success with her Brad Miller-esque records, that’s a problem.

Lopez won’t do this all the time, but he’s shown he still has it in him. His mere presence is also important to the Bucks’ defense, which prides itself on stopping the paint and forcing teams to beat them from the outside. Milwaukee is one of the best teams in the NBA in terms of points in the paint allowed, and Lopez’s commanding presence playing drop defense will only make it harder for the Bulls to score on the edge. Chicago scored just 34 points in the paint in the March 22 game and 42 in the April 5 game with Lopez in the lineup. Of course, the Bulls only scored 20 points in the paint in Game 1 on Jan. 21, so some of that is just a Bulls problem.

The Milwaukee Defense and Quarter Turd

While the Bucks have elite defenders and are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the NBA, their defense has been more elusive than usual this season. They finished only 14th in defensive standings after posting elite units in recent seasons, although there was also some slippage last season after leading the league twice in a row.

Lopez obviously missed, although he didn’t fix it all. The Bucks ranked 20th in defensive rankings after the All-Star break, with Lopez playing in some of those games and the defense not necessarily being at the elite level when he was on the court.

Interestingly, a major problem for their defense was being flat out coming out of halftime. The Bucks generally started games strong defensively (ranking third in the first quarter defensive rankings) and were strong in the second and fourth quarters as well. But for any season, in the third quarters they were the worst defensive team in the NBA, and by quite a wide margin. It might not be a playoff thing, assuming the Bucks are more focused, but it’s something to watch.

Milwaukee is also sensitive to 3-ball. The Bucks allowed the most 3-point attempts and 3-point wins this season, and percentage allowed ranked 19th. This has been the case for years and is clearly part of the program to keep teams out of the paint. The Bulls don’t have the 3-point shooting to really hurt the Bucks, especially without Lonzo Ball, but they’ll have to hope the shooters they have catch fire. Bucks shoot a lot of 3s themselves and shoot ’em well, so Chicago really must strike given the weakness of their attempts. Hoping for a Coby White game?

It will also be interesting to see who the Bucks throw at DeRozan and LaVine, and if they decide to trap or play straight. Holiday and Wesley Matthews are solid defenders, while Middleton, Giannis and others can be used if needed. Milwaukee will likely use Giannis as a roving while assisting non-shooters, but in times of crisis he may take on prime-time assignments.

The old bull

The Bobby Portis era wasn’t particularly pleasant in Chicago, but he became a cult hero for the Bucks in their championship run last season. Portis continues to be an important piece, filling the starting role in the frontcourt when Lopez was absent. With Lopez back, the Bucks start Holiday-Matthews-Middleton-Giannis-Lopez, moving Portis into a sixth-man role.

Portis averaged a career-high 14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from 3-point range. He helps open up the court with his ground spacing and is a great rebounder. Although his defense is still nothing to write home about, his overall energy is important for Milwaukee.

Portis would surely love nothing more than to burn his old team down in this first-round series, and we know he’ll let the Bulls know if he does.

Grayson Allen’s Drama

Grayson Allen injuring Alex Caruso with a cheap shot in Milwaukee feels like ages ago. Bulls fans were out for blood after this and continued to boo Allen for the rest of the regular season, although he got the last laugh with his team dominating both games.

For their part, the Bulls players hit Allen with serious fouls in those Derrick Jones Jr. and Vooch games. While the Bulls shouldn’t hesitate to kick Allen on the ass again as long as it’s just a good hard foul, hopefully nothing gets too out of control and the situation doesn’t become a dominating storyline, especially if frustration sets in for the Bulls as the series progresses.

Allen is easy to hate, but I’d rather not go out like Giannis and the Bucks did in 2015.


Of course, I’d rather not “go out” at all, but that’s probably not in the cards given the circumstances. The Bucks weren’t as dominant overall this season as they were in their title campaign, but they were pretty darn close when their main guys were healthy. And now they are mostly healthy (George Hill is out with an abdominal injury and Serge Ibaka was sick to end the season).

I just hope this series will be relatively competitive. The time off will help LaVine and Caruso, but they haven’t played at their peak in a while. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Bucks made things ugly, and they’re not entirely invincible, where the Bulls at least have a shooting talent there that can make things interesting late in close games.

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