For Milwaukee and Chicago, two teams that missed out on the opportunity to showcase their talents on Christmas Day, the season starts again tonight. The latest edition in the Bulls and Bucks rivalry takes place just ten days after Milwaukee were embarrassed on their own floor by Chicago, 109-115.
Chicago continue to roll on, winners in 7 of their last 9 games and only the Eastern Conference contending Cavaliers and Celtics have been able to slow them down. This incredible change of form has coincided with the return of Nikola Mirotic from injury, throwing all top three lottery selection hopes into disarray.
In the Bulls win over the Bucks two weeks ago it was the two players in the middle of the practice incident controversy that left Mirotic in hospital and Bobby Portis suspended for six games to start the season. Portis had a career night, dropping 27 points to go with 12 rebounds off the bench while Mirotic came up clutch in the fourth. Totalling 22 points, he did his best and most damaging work late in the game scoring 9 points in the last 2:42 to ensure the Bucks chances of an unlikely victory were snuffed out.
The Bucks rebounding issues were somehow more glaring then usual in this game as they gave up 57 total rebounds, but it was the massive 14 on the offensive glass that proved most costly. Robin Lopez in particular destroyed the Bucks with 6 offensive rebounds, all which seemed to come at the most costly of times for Milwaukee. Across the board the team statistics were incredibly even otherwise, the Bucks simply unable to come up with a sustained run to take the lead.
For Milwaukee, they need to get back on track after an extremely underwhelming home and home split against Charlotte last week. The Bucks used a sensational 9-0 run to finish and win the first game 109-104. But in the second game, missing Giannis with knee soreness again, the Bucks gave up an 18 point lead on route to a 106-111 loss.
The question of Giannis early season work load came to the fore front once again as he attempted to warm up pre game and his knee was too sore to complete the back to back. Given the opposition wasn’t that strong, its likely the Bucks were attempting to manage him through a ‘easier’ game but his team mates weren’t able to get the job done.
Khris Middleton continued his hot run of late with 31 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists but crucially missed the last shot to tie the game in the dying seconds. Out of a timeout with 21 seconds left on the clock, Jason Kidd had a chance to draw up a nice late game play. Instead the Bucks just went to a clear out Middleton isolation at the top of the key which resulted in a tough contested long two that predictably missed the mark. Another frustrating late decision by Kidd as the questions continue to arise about his ability to manage late game situations.
With the Eastern Conference standings continue to swing and change on a nightly basis, only two games separate 4th through 9th. The Bucks now sit 7th with a record of 17-14. Coming off the best win of the season against Cleveland the Bucks again played down to their competition against Charlotte. Having already lost to the Bulls this season, they will be determined to come out stronger then they did that night and avoid falling further down the table leading into the new year.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Lockdown Lopez: On paper, Milwaukee should be confident heading into any game against the Bulls this season. The Bucks are the better team, but they didn’t play like it last time as the Bulls out worked and out hustled them. As mentioned earlier, Lopez crushed Henson and Maker on the offensive glass and was a huge contributor to their victory. Allowing six offensive rebounds is simply unacceptable and as a group, the Milwaukee big men simply need to do better on the glass but we’ve been saying this every night so time will tell if they can.
- Kidd In The Clutch: The Bucks have been remarkably good in late game situations but this has been despite coach Kidd’s continued baffling moves in the 4th. From intentionally fouling Detroit late when the Bucks were up by 4 points, to instructing Middleton to miss a free throw when they were up 3, to the lack of imagination with the last play against Charlotte. Kidd has been horrible late in games and he simply needs to be better. Now.
- Greek God Returns: Despite the frustrations late in the game and giving up a huge lead to Charlotte the fact remains, Milwaukee won’t win to many games without their MVP candidate. The knee issue will remain an ongoing concern but an easy way to get him more rest is take care of business against lower ranked teams. Coming off an extended rest, Giannis will be desperate to get back out on the floor and do what he does best, dominate games. Giannis playing completely changes the Bucks on the floor and elevates them to another level. The competitor that he is, you should expect him to have a huge night. A 30+ point, 10+ rebound night wouldn’t surprise.
Follow Kane Pitman on Twitter: @mkebucksaus