The Bucks had their three game winning streak snapped in New Orleans Wednesday night and now return home for one game, “Fear The Deer” night at the Bradley Center. The Bucks will use their alternate court for the first time this season and don the awesome black jerseys (pictured above) against their closest rival, the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls, owners of the league’s worst record for almost the entire season, have relinquished that distinction by winning four straight games and in the process climb to 7-20 on the year. The four straight wins have coincided with the return of Nikola Mirotic who was sidelined on the eve of the NBA season suffering from multiple face fractures. A nasty enough injury as it is, the story got uglier when it was revealed the facial fractures were a result of a physical altercation at practice with team mate Bobby Portis.
In his four games since returning, Mirotic has been red hot, averaging 19.5 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and shooting 52% from deep. In that stretch Chicago has averaged 108.5 points a contest. In the 24 previous games, they only managed to top the century mark 6 times.
In a blow for the Bulls, first round pick Lauri Markkenan averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds didn’t make the trip to Milwaukee, out with a Back issue.
Along with Mirotic, Markkenan, Justin Holiday, Robin Lopez, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis are all average double digit scoring, showing the Bulls’ lack of a true star, but also the danger of various threats to the Bucks defense.
Despite the latest up tick in scoring, the Bulls still hold the league’s worst offense and a bottom ten defense. They are a team in the middle of a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler and the 17th pick to Minnesota for Kris Dunn, the 7th pick (Markkanen) and Zach LaVine who is getting closer to a return from ACL surgery.
The Bucks will need to respond defensively after the Pelicans, like many teams before them, shot the lights out Wednesday night. Dishing out a massive 35 assists and finishing 56 percent from the field and 52% from deep it was surprisingly close.
Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton, both red hot lately, came crashing back to earth, combining for 10-33 from the field and 5-17 from deep. With the Bucks’ lack of depth right now, the reliance on the big three is bigger then ever. Tony Snell, Matthew Dellevedova, Jason Terry and Mirza Teletovic remain out for the Bucks, with a particularly sad update on Mirza’s status surfacing yesterday.
Suffering from a knee complaint, Teletovic has missed the last 16 games, but it was announced yesterday that he has pulmonary emboli in both lungs, essentially blood clots. A scary condition that Teletovic has experienced before when a member of the Brooklyn Nets. The focus will now turn solely to his immediate health rather then his return to the court for Milwaukee, a significant blow however to the Bucks depth.
After a disappointing loss on the road in New Orleans, the Bucks need to get back on track and take care of business against a Bulls team that continues to gain confidence.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Fast start: As mentioned, the Bulls record sits at 7-20, they are bad on both ends of the floor but they are young. And so often with young players and teams, confidence can carry them a long way. Suddenly streaking, the young Bulls in Dunn, Portis, Denzel Valentine, Holiday and Jerian Grant will be hard to shake if they are given a window in the first half. Start strong, open up a gap and never let them in it.
- Physical Bledsoe: Coming off his first disappointing performance in awhile, Bledsoe must rebound and the Bulls point guard rotation looks ripe for the picking. He should have no issues getting by the Chicago guards to get what he wants on offense, and on defense he should be able to physically manoeuvre Dunn, Grant and company, to wherever he wants them. I’m looking for a 20+ point, 5+ steal night from Eric.
- Three point defense: After allowing the Pelicans to shoot 52 percent from deep, its time for the Bucks to knuckle down again. Mirotic is the only Chicago player shooting over 40% from deep and Milwaukee should look to throttle them from the outside.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus