The basics: Milwaukee (29-35) at Chicago (28-34). The Bucks are 11-23 on the road and Bulls are 18-11 at home.
Advanced stuff: Milwaukee ranks 18th in Offensive Rating (107.3) and 14th in Defensive Rating (107.6). Chicago ranks 20th (106.8) and 17th (108.2), respectively. So science tells us that neither team is very good, but the Bucks are just a teentsy-weentsy bit not-as-bad.
The stakes: Check those standings, baby. The Bulls and Bucks are both vying (along with the Nets, Bobcats and maybe even the Pacers and Knicks) for that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (otherwise known as “The Cavaliers or Celtics’ first-round hors d’oeuvres.”) Milwaukee and Chicago are tied, New Jersey is a half game back, Charlotte is one and a half games back, and Indiana and New York are both two games back. As playoff “races” go, this is more of a one-legged potato sack hop, I know, but the siren song of the postseason beckons. And since Chicago’s next stretch of games includes matchups with the Heat, Magic, Sixers and Hornets — the first three of which are on the road — while the Bucks have a six-game home stand, the Bulls’ have about the same margin of error I would have while performing a self-appendectomy with a rubber chicken.
The season series: Chicago leads 2-1 and can win it outright (and thus earn the all-important tiebreaker) with a victory tonight. The Bulls took a 108-95 home decision in their first game of the season as Derrick Rose had 11 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals in his rookie debut. However, they lost 97-90 on December 3 in Milwaukee when Dan Gadzuric — who really should have “seldom-used center” tattooed on his butt cheeks — semi-erupted for 11 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Then, couple weeks ago, right before the trade deadline, the Bulls got some road revenge with a 113-104 win in Milwaukee thanks to Kirk Hinrich’s season-high 31 points (which amounted to a “Please don’t trade me!” performance).
Random but telling stat: The Bucks have lost six straight at the United Center. (In fact, they’re 2-13 there since the start of the 2001-02 season.) Milwaukee’s last victory in the Windy City was a one-point win on January 2, 2006.
The analysis: Chicago needs to, uh, score more points. But seriously, the Bulls have played really well at home lately, with recent wins against the Nuggets, Magic, Rockets and Warriors. And while the game against Golden State was basically a scrimmage, those other wins were pretty impressive. As poorly as the team has been playing on the road — and it’s been ugly, folks — they seem to get pretty fired up at home. And it seems like they’d be a little extra pumped up to take on a crippled opponent — the Bucks are missing Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, their two best players — particularly when that opponent is sort of standing between them and the playoffs. The Bulls need to make like its a game of Mortal Kombat and FINISH THEM!! Okay. I’ll calm down now.
Now, according to Derrick Rose: “Milwaukee is a good team and they are playing good right now.” Yeah, well, they’ve lost four of their last five, with the one win coming against the Wicked Worst of the East (a.k.a. the Washington Wizards). Of course, those Wizards beat us in Washington, so never mind. The Bucks might be reeling, but Derrick has the right attitude. The Bulls can’t afford to fall asleep on these guys. Charlie Villanueva, Ramon Sessions and Richard Jefferson are like ticking point bombs waiting to go off. And hey, Dan Gadzuric already beat us once this season. Saying that makes me feel so cold inside.
Injury update: Luol Deng is still suffering from a whatever-it-is, so it’s unlikely we’ll see him in uniform tonight. Tim Thomas is listed as “questionable” due to that hyperextended left knee, but it seems he has a score to settle with Bucks coach Scott Skiles. According to John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Someone jokingly asked Tim Thomas if he was looking forward to seeing Skiles, who was responsible for exiling Thomas out of town three years ago. After a long pause, Thomas said, ‘It’ll be good to see some old faces on my old team.'” Tim said he’s still sore but will try to play through the pain. Revenge game, anyone?
Last but not least, Tyrus Thomas missed Thursday’s practice because of a right hip strain he suffered Wednesday. However, it’s not serious and he’s expected to play.