The battle for first place: Bucks – Bulls preview

What to Watch For: Bucks

Here’s what can happen when you play half your games against the 76ers and the injury-ravaged Pacers (who weren’t all that good at defense to begin with):

1) In yielding 93.2 points per 100 possessions, the Bucks have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA and the best in the Eastern Conference. 

2) The Bucks are 0.5 games ahead of Cleveland in the Central Division standings and a win tonight would put them in a tie for first place with Chicago.

OK, then.

What else? When Jason Kidd made the move yesterday to start Ersan Ilyasova in place of Khris Middleton, the most interesting aspect of the move was the way in which it impacted the two foundational young pieces of the Bucks: Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For most of the preseason and the first few games of the season, Parker had been the starting power forward and Antetokounmpo had been a small forward (or point forward). Against the Pacers, the script flipped. Parker started at small forward and Giannis came into the game as a backup power forward.

Oddly, for both young guys, the changes allowed them to operate more from the low post. Parker had a chance to play with his back to the basket against guys who weren’t vastly larger. And Giannis got a bunch of work down on the low block as well. For a team without much of an offensive presence in the paint, the switch gives them new versatility.

At the same time, if Giannis becomes another option at the power forward spot, then I don’t envy Kidd’s task of splitting up the front count minutes. How do you split 96 minutes among Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, and whatever work Giannis and Jabari get as bigs. The advanced stat of long division dictates that Kidd can’t give all these guys 20+ minutes.

For many of these games, Kidd is reacting to the flow of the game and the lineups of the opposition. In some games, throwing Zaza into the fire works wonders; in others, he doesn’t really have a place. It’s definitely going to be a “feel” thing for Kidd for now until he has a better grasp of his roster.

Even in the back court, Kidd’s usage of Kendall Marshall and Nate Wolters isn’t so much a development issue, as it would have been in the Season of the Tank. The two young point guards don’t really have a place in the rotation, and the minutes each has gotten have been doled out as a means of disrupting, rather than developing, the roster.

What to Watch For: Bulls

The Bulls are a bit dinged up. Joakim Noah missed last night’s game against the Magic due to illness, and Derrick Rose was a last minute scratch because 100% of his ankles are sprained.

Chicago has established itself as one of the few prime contenders of a shallow Eastern Conference. While maintaining the semblance of a typical Tom Thibodeau defense, the Bulls have added a ton of shooting to plug their biggest shortcoming of a season ago. The additions of Aaron Brooks, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott give the Bulls added shooting at all spots on the floor.

Some guy named Pau Gasol is helpful too.

It’s all a matter of whether or not Derrick Rose is healthy, which has pretty much been the mantra in Chicago since April 28, 2012.


Time – 7:00 p.m. CST TV – FS-Wisconsin Radio – 620 WTMJ

Injury Report

Bucks: Damien Inglis (foot, still out); Johnny O’Bryant (knee, remains inactive)

Bulls: As mentioned, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah missed last night’s game. Jimmy Butler played last night, but is battling with a sprained thumb on his non-shooting hand.

Projected Lineups

Bucks: Brandon Knight – Jared DudleyJabari Parker – Ersan Ilyasova – Larry Sanders

Bulls: Kirk Hinrich – Jimmy Butler – Mike Dunleavy – Pau Gasol – Joakim Noah (?)

Choose the Form of the Destructor: Mike Dunleavy

Last season, Dunleavy secretly delighted in torturing the Bucks. Time and again, he curled sharply around screens that left Giannis bumped, possibly bruised, and definitely out of position. If Giannis gets that matchup again, I fully expect him to perform better, having added a full year of experience to his knowledge base. In Summer League and the preseason, it was clear that Antetokounmpo has learned better techniques for navigating around obstacles when defending off the ball.

But if the lineup stays the same as it did last night, Dunleavy will be matched up with a teenaged Bucks rookie small forward for the second year in a row. With more high-level basketball experience in his resume, Parker should fare better than Giannis did, but he will still have a big task in finding his way through a multitude of tough Bulls’ screeners.

Prediction: Today is O.J. Mayo’s birthday and he will top his age in scoring.

Categories: Game Previews

Tags: ,,,

1 Comment

  1. It’s good for me to remember that we’re just a handful of games into the season, but if the Bucks don’t find 20-30 minutes per game for John Henson, they risk really discouraging him, and even alienating him from the team. After all, the team has never given John a consistent role with consistent minutes, which means they’ve never given him a real chance to show what he has to offer on the court.

    Compare that to Giannis, for example, who has been given plenty of minutes as a raw talent, what amounts to on-the-job training, despite his inexperience and the flaws in his game, such as getting around picks as noted above. Why does John have to seemingly be so polished before he gets a real chance on the court?

    Eventually, the decision to marginalize John is in effect a decision to exclude him from our future plans. I can’t imagine that John can abide his lingering low status much longer, and I wouldn’t expectd him to. If the Bucks aren’t going to use him, it might be best for the team and for John to see if there is another team out there that has a higher regard for his current offerings and promise for the future.

    I must say that this would be sad for me to lose such a talented player and a fine young man.