Chicago Bulls (6-6) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6-5)
After beating the Bucks Saturday in Milwaukee (a game I had to miss because I was at the Michigan-Cornell hockey game at MSG), breaking up a 3-game Bucks winning streak, the two teams face off again tonight at the United Center. The Bucks enter the game a half game better than the Bulls at 6-5.
Despite averaging just under 100 points per game heading into tonight, the Bulls D appears to be stiffen up again, holding the Bucks to just 86 points at 17.6% from beyond the arc (3-17).
The Bucks continue to rely on combo guard Brandon Jennings for a significant chunk of their scoring; he scored 23 on 10-20 shooting Saturday night (although he was only 1-5 from 3). Although I didn't get a chance to watch the game, Kirk Hinrich et al will need to do a better job on Jennings. The fourth-year guard also tallied 7 assists and 5 steals (!).
Of course, the Bucks jettisoned Andrew Bogut in an offseason trade that yielded them another combo guard scoring type in Monta Ellis. Ellis scored 17 on 7-17 shooting Saturday, with only a pair of assists to his name.
Overall, the Bucks assisted 17 baskets and turned it over 16 times, compared with a Bulls assist:turnover ration of a little over 2:1 (20 assists, 9 turnovers). So, if the Bulls can stop Jennings and Ellis in isolation sets and in transition, holding the Bucks to a sub-90 output shouldn't be exceedingly difficult, especially at home.
Otherwise, the Bucks have a fairly unimposing cast of characters filling out the rest of the lineup. Small forwards Tobias Harris and Ersan Ilyasova are averaging 8.4 and 6.4 ppg, respectively, with Ilyasova maintaining a horrible PER of 6.6.
Veteran SF Mike Dunleavy will come off of the bench and chip in some scoring (12.3 ppg), especially from beyond the arc, where he is shooting a sterling 44%. C Samuel Dalembert will come off the bench to be large and whatnot, and rookie Tar Heel John Henson hasn't made a significant impact just yet; he played only 1 minute on Saturday.
In short, this is a guard-heavy team dependent upon Ellis and Jennings to carry the day. The Bulls should, for the most part, dominate with its front court matchups.
Points of Concern
Despite not having some big name front court guys, the Bucks are a respectable 11th in rebounding, but only 2oth in offensive rebounding percentage. With the athleticism of the Bucks' guard tandem, the Bulls cannot afford to let the Bucks out-athlete the Bulls on second chance opportunities when the play breaks down.
Otherwise, it's all about containing Ellis and Jennings, whose athleticism should scare Bulls fan. It's painfully obvious that the Bulls have one of the least athletic starting fives in the league, and players like Ellis and Jennings can do some damage against them. However, they combined for 40 points and still lost on Saturday, so evidently the Bulls got it done elsewhere on the floor.
What Needs To Happen
- FIND. THE. SHOOTER. In this case, it's Dunleavy. Fairly self-explanatory. He was only 1-4 on Saturday, and can hit if you leave him open, just like any other NBA shooter. There's no reason to let a guy like Dunleavy beat you, so it all starts with good offensive sets and shots on the other end and vigilant transition D when those long rebounds do set Ellis/Jennings off to the races.
- Force 'em to settle. Ellis and particularly Jennings are far less dangerous when they're launching shots from outside. Hinrich et al simply need to keep the tandem in front and perimeter help needs to be vigilant or the pair will score more than 40 combined this time around. The Bulls cannot afford to let the Bucks' average front court guys to get going with easy buckets off of penetration dishes from Ellis/Jennings. The Bucks are 13th in the league in 3-point attempts per game but are shooting only 30%, good for 26th in the league. Let them
eat cakeshoot threes! Well, they can have cake too if they want it but they'll need to wait 30 minutes until entering the game again. I'm looking at you, Milwaukee front court. Safety first.
- Hit the glass. The Bulls rebounded 40% of their 50 misses (20 ORB) on Saturday. Assuming that, say, Boozer doesn't go 10-15 again from the field --probably a safe assumption given his season thus far-- the Bulls might need that sort of tenacious effort on the glass one more time.
Useless Prediction Time
- Boozer does not go 10-15 this time against Milwaukee; the 2012-13 adventure in Boozer shooting swings back to the Evil Boozer side of the pendulum.
- The Bulls rebound at least 40% of their misses once again.
- With Deng and Noah playings 42 minutes and Boozer playing 36 on Saturday, I'm looking for a relatively well-rested Taj Gibson to have one of the better games of his at times somewhat underwhelming 12-13 season.
- Bulls 96, Bucks 91.