The Milwaukee Bucks will head down the highway to Chicago Sunday afternoon, desperate to atone for two of the seasons most embarrassing performances. In the space of two weeks in December, the Bulls handled the Bucks on their home floor, both games playing out in eerily similar fashion. Both times the Bucks gave up 115 points, both times they were destroyed on the offensive glass and both times they failed in the fourth quarter.
This is a Milwaukee team that will come in full of confidence however, after winning two in a row since head coach Jason Kidd was fired last Monday afternoon. The last outing against Brooklyn was especially impressive as Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to the court in devastating fashion. After missing two straight contests, Antetokounmpo took out all his frustration on the Nets, obliterating them to the tune of 41 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in only 32 minutes.
It was clear sailing for the Bucks from the get go, as they raced out to an 18 point lead after the first quarter. It was all smiles from the Milwaukee players, coaches, and fans alike as a thunderous one handed alley oop jam from Khris Middleton in the final two minutes put an emphatic exclamation mark on the win.
Though Giannis returned, Malcolm Brogdon was absent from the game for the second time in the last three, testing the Bucks depth once again. A rare negative on the night was the usual lack of bench scoring. The second unit only contributed 21 points despite Thon Maker having a nice night with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. At this stage, Brogdon is listed as probable, potentially giving the Bucks their full strength roster (minus Jabari) for the first time in two weeks.
The Chicago Bulls are in the middle of a mini slump, having lost three in a row and four of their last five. The Bulls will be without Kris Dunn (concussion), but will have impressive rookie Lauri Markkanen available after he missed the first match up between the two teams. Another returnee since the last time these two teams collided is Zach Lavine, who has played 7 games since making his comeback from ACL surgery last year. Lavine’s minutes are gradually increasing each night, though the rust is still evident as he is struggling to only make 38 percent of his shots so far.
On the surface, Milwaukee appear to have taken over the mantle as the superior team between the two this season. However their meetings so far suggest strongly otherwise. A team widely thought to be in the midst of a long and painful rebuild, the Bulls all of a sudden appear to have a flourishing young nucleus ready to rebound quicker then expected. Losing to the Bulls twice at home was embarrassing for the Bucks, anything short of a win for Joe Prunty and his men will be seen as a disaster. The United Center hasn’t exactly been a happy hunting ground for Milwaukee in recent years having only left victorious in two of their last seven regular season games there. Sunday afternoon seems like a fantastic time to keep their winning streak alive and exact revenge on the young Bulls.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Offensive Glass: As mentioned earlier, the Bulls have utterly destroyed the Bucks big men in offensive rebounding. The combined total from the first two contests is in favor of Chicago 29-13. These second chance opportunities repeatedly burnt the Bucks in crucial moments. Robin Lopez in particular has grabbed 8 and Bobby Portis 6. The Bucks rank second last in the league for offensive rebounds but the job is in front of John Henson and Thon Maker to ensure the ledger is far more even in this category or else they might find themselves in a deep hole once more.
- Contain Mirotic: Nikola Mirotic was involved in an opening day controversy as he suffered several facial fractures at the hands of his own team mate, Bobby Portis. Since returning however, the Bulls have become a different team and the Bucks have found out twice just how damaging he can be. Averaging 23 points and 8 rebounds in the two meetings, containing Mirotic will be at the very top of the agenda for Prunty and the Bucks coaching staff.
- Bledsoe Back On Track: The Bledsoe trade has proven to be a major win for the Bucks so far this season as the powerful point guard has proven to be a terror on both ends of the floor since joining the deer. Unfortunately his performance since the turn of the New Year has taken a slight dip and the Bucks will be looking for him to turn it around. Shooting 42 percent from the field and settling for far too many jump shots, Bledsoe has been bailing the opposition defense out with regularity. When in attack mode, Bledsoe and Giannis are as fearsome as any duo in the league. The Bucks will be looking for him to attack the basket and return to aggressive All-Star caliber Bledsoe. When that version is in full flight, the Bucks are very hard to slow down.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus