Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 14 – 18
(Probable) Inactives: Joe Alexander and Dan Gadzuric
Chicago Bulls (Vinny Del-Negro) 14-19
(Probable) Inactives: Lindsey Hunter
Time: 7:30 (CST)
TV: FS Wisconsin
Brandon Jennings vs. Derrick Rose
The last time these teams met, Jennings/Rose was hyped as a potential matchup of the league’s future at point guard. Since then, Tyreke Evans has more or less made fans toss Jennings and Rose on the backburner. Evans has shined as the Kings have outperformed expectations as Jennings and Rose have each struggled for teams that haven’t played well over the past month. Rose has it going lately though, averaging nearly 25 points per game over the Bulls last five games, three of them wins. He’s shot just a shade under 50 percent and is averaging six free throws per game. He’s been attacking and the Bulls have had success. The biggest change has been the free throw attempts; Rose was getting shots early this year, but wasn’t getting many easy baskets from the free throw line. In November Rose shot just 32 free throws, compared with 72 in December. The Bulls winning percentage in those respective months are reflective of it too: .385 and .467. If the Bucks can keep Rose off the line, they’ll increase their odds of winning significantly.
Michael Redd vs. Kirk Hinrich
This is not the Kirk Hinrich I remember. The last time I saw Hinrich play at the Bradley Center, he taught Ramon Sessions a lesson in caring for the ball by swiping it from him when he was looking towards coach Skiles nonchalantly and sprinted down the court for a layup. He got to the free throw line over and over and torched Milwaukee from all over the court. He finished the night with 31 points off the bench and began the slow process that was the elimination of the Bucks from the playoff race. Now? He’s shooting under 40 percent as the starting two guard. About the only thing that seems the same is the constant trade banter centering on him. Sounds a little like the Bucks own starting two guard Michael Redd. Whether Hinrich will be defending Redd or Jennings Friday, expect him to give them problems with physicality and quickness on the perimeter defensively. At least I’d think so, unless that’s somehow non-existent for the current rendition of Kirk Hinrich too.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vs. Luol Deng
Against Milwaukee this year, Deng is averaging 23 points, 17 rebounds, a block and a half and a steal. About the only saving grace is that LRMAM didn’t play in one of the games, so hopefully he’ll adjust Deng’s numbers in a negative way, though he didn’t do much in the Bucks first game against Chicago. Like with Rose, the Bucks would be well served to keep Deng from getting to the line, as he’s averaging nearly ten free throw attempts per game against Milwaukee this year. Deng’s athleticism is a constant source of frustration for the Bucks, as LRMAM frequently spends time guarding Derrick Rose, leaving less athletic players matched up with the opportunistic Deng.
Ersan Ilyasova vs. Taj Gibson
Gibson typically cedes the majority of the power forward minutes to Deng, as the Bulls like to go small with Salmons at the three more often than not, but when he’s in Gibson is serviceable. He’s averaging eight points and six rebounds on nearly 50 percent shooting and has the second highest offensive rebound percentage on the team. He’s fit in nicely as the hustling power forward, doing as much as he can with few touches and fewer plays ran through him. He’s not quite the shot-blocker Tyrus Thomas is, but also requires much less maintenance and doesn’t force up crazy jumpers. The offense is considerably better with Deng at the power forward though and Gibson’s defensive prowess isn’t good enough to warrant him playing quite as much as he currently is. The Bulls would be much better off starting Deng at the four and making a go of it. Ilyasova hasn’t really had a noteworthy game since Sacramento left town on the 19th of December and recently has lost some playing time to Hakim Warrick. I don’t think he’s in any danger of losing his starting spot, but it wouldn’t hurt him to take advantage of a likely size match-up against Chicago. An example of Ilyasova’s inconsistencies has been his recent three-point shooting: after connecting on 7-10 against San Antonio, Charlotte and Orlando, Ilyasova has missed his last seven.
Andrew Bogut vs. Joakim Noah
Noah was garnering some all-star support earlier this year when he was grabbing every rebound out there and finishing inside to boot. Well he’s still grabbing rebounds, but shot just 42 percent in the month of December. For most players, 42 percent isn’t great, but for a center, it’s just plain awful. Noah is hitting just 52 percent of his shots at the rim, down from 59 percent last year and generally terrible for a talented player like himself. In the last meeting between Bogut and Noah, Bogut dropped 22 points and 15 rebounds in his first game back from a leg injury. Noah was unable to have much of an effect on Bogut’s shots at the rim, as Andrew just muscled down the lighter Noah and dropped in hook shots time after time. Look for Milwaukee to try and exploit the size and strength mismatch again.
Hakim Warrick, Kurt Thomas, Luke Ridnour and Charlie Bell
Brad Miller, John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas and James Johnson
The Bulls boast a deep bench with a myriad of match-up problems waiting to happen and flexibility. Thomas is working his way back into the rotation and trying to figure out this whole coming off the bench thing again after starting for the majority of last season. Salmons has performed better off the bench since moving back on the 29th of December. That makes sense; it seems like a more comfortable role for a professional scorer like Salmons. He can come in and focus pretty much on just getting his shot and getting it against the other team’s second unit guys. Warrick has scored in double figures in four of the last five games and has averaged over five free throws a game during that span. His aggressiveness is his ticket to more playing time.
Prediction: Bucks 99 – Bulls 93
These are obviously very important games as both these teams are going to be in the mix for the eighth seed in the East. The Bucks blew a huge lead in Chicago in the first meeting and were rescued from blowing one by some Andrew Bogut blocked shots in meeting two. It’s clear the Bucks can out-execute the Bulls, but the question is whether they can consistently do it for a whole game. At this point, they haven’t shown they can. Fortunately, the Bucks play much better at home and should be rested and focused on getting one more win before a tough six game trip out West. In short, the Bucks need this one more than the Bulls and if they play like it, they’ll take it.