The Bulls displayed some much-needed resilience Tuesday night and will look to rack up a seventh victory in nine games as their mini-resurgence gathers pace.
They travel the short distance north on the I94 to face the Milwaukee Bucks. A win in Milwaukee paired with Washington losing on the road in Indianapolis would result in the Bulls storming to the dizzying highs of the fifth seed in the hideously weak Eastern Conference.
Tuesday’s win against a surging Suns was not as surprising as it perhaps would have been for another team. The Bulls under Thibodeau have shown a remarkable ability to regroup and recover from losses both on the court and on the physician’s table.
While Chicago’s season has been gut-punch after gut-punch with Rose lost for the season and Deng’s trade to Cleveland, Milwaukee’s season has been more like the pain you feel peeling off a band-aid: slow, lingering and unpleasant. Owner Herb Kohl proclaimed at the start of the season how he didn’t want the Bucks to tank, preferring annual first-round playoff exits over the pain of losing to get better.
All it takes is a quick glance at Milwaukee’s 7-27 record this season to see how misguided Kohl’s desire was. The Bucks’ seven wins are three behind the next-worst team and their .206 win percentage would be the worst mark in franchise history.
While part of this malaise is the Bucks’ roster genetics playing out, their woeful record would be somewhat better had they been able to utilize what is a semi-decent core of young players. Ersan Ilyasova has been poor this season, shooting a shocking 18.5 percent from deep and is now playing with his a wrap on his right hand.
Larry Sanders, the big man the Bucks pinned their long-term hopes to with a big contract despite the troubling lack of consistency in his output, missed the first 25 games of this season, returning to the starting lineup five games ago after severing a thumb ligament in a nightclub brawl in November.
Add to that poor play from the veterans and a trove of developing rookies lead by bloggers’ favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have inadvertently created the most efficient tank job since the Bobcats lost 59 of 66 games in the lockout shortened 2011-12 season.
As if this weren’t enough, Sanders and veteran guard Gary Neal reportedly got into it in the locker room last week with Neal questioning Sanders’ work ethic after yet another Bucks loss.
This game, going on current form, should not be a problem for Chicago however the Bulls have shown a worrisome trend to struggle against some of the NBA’s worst teams with losses to Utah, Cleveland, Orlando and the Bucks themselves in Chicago.
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah vs Larry Sanders
Joakim Noah used the hurt of losing Luol Deng, a close personal friend as well as team-mate, to power his game and the Bulls to Tuesday’s victory over Phoenix. He will have his hands full again with the freakishly long frontcourt Milwaukee boasts, primarily with Larry Sanders.
Chicago Bulls (15-18, 2nd in Central, 6th in East)
C- Joakim Noah: 7th season. 11.0 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game.
PF- Carlos Boozer: 12th season. 14.7 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game.
SF- Mike Dunleavy: 12th season. 10.7 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game.
SG- Jimmy Butler: 3rd season. 12.2 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game.
PG- Kirk Hinrich: 11th season. 7.8 points per game, 4.7 assists per game.
Milwaukee Bucks (7-27, 5th in Central, 15th in East)
C- Larry Sanders: 4th season. 8.8 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game.
PF- Ersan Ilyasova: 6th season. 8.9 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game.
SF- Giannis Antetokounmpo: 1st season. 6.8 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game.
SG- Brandon Knight: 2nd season. 15.2 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game.
PG- Luke Ridnour: 11th season. 7.2 points per game, 3.8 assists per game.
Carlos Boozer (Probable); Joakim Noah (Probable); Mike Dunleavy (Probable); Derrick Rose (Out).
Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova (Questionable); John Henson (Questionable); Zaza Pachulia (Out); Carlos Delfino (Out).