MILWAUKEE— Jabari Parker could say returning to Milwaukee for the first time was just another game, but anyone with a set of working set of eyes could see otherwise before and during the game.
The crowd at the newly-minted Fiserv Forum didn’t see him walk in with a T-shirt featuring the rapper Ice Cube on the front with the saying “laugh now, cry later” on the back.
“You know about Cube...it’s subliminal,” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com after the game. “You know the story.”
For the uninitiated, the rapper-turned-actor hadn’t realized an album in nearly six years before churning out a project in 2006, tabbed as a comeback album.
Hence, the parallel with Parker’s return to Milwaukee.
Turns out the laugh was barely a chuckle and the tears were all night along, all across the board for the Bulls as they looked disjointed, out of sorts and at times disinterested in a 116-82 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
Parker made his first shot, a driving layup over former teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. That was the highlight for the Bulls and for Parker, who had eyes on the rim all night.
It would’ve been a welcome sight if the new rims at Fiserv Forum returned the affection, as Parker missed his next 11 shots, repeatedly forcing the action as he tried to prove the Bucks made a mistake by letting the former No. 2 pick walk without compensation to his friendly confines of Chicago.
“I played like doo-doo, but it’s fine,” Parker said. “I just have to get back and in another couple games make up for it and learn from it.”
For Parker, the effort was understandable.
“I try to see what I could’ve done better and go into the next game,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com after the game. “(Former UCLA coach) John Wooden (said) you can’t be caught up in praise or criticism. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either.”
Enduring through injuries after being hailed as a franchise savior coming out of Duke, only to have Antetokounmpo become everything in stature he believed he was destined to be, couldn’t have been easy to take.
“I think it was a good fit,” said Parker to NBCSportsChicago.com on Tuesday. “You have those talented guys together, something good is gonna happen, regardless of what is in front at the moment.”
Parker had stops and starts, re-starts and setbacks through his time in Milwaukee, tearing his ACL twice in four years. It halted the promise he could’ve made as a primary player, let alone a supporting piece next to Antetokounmpo and fellow emerging star Khris Middleton.
There was plenty left on the table, more terrain to possibly be explored but timing and the brutal reality of basketball got in the way.
“Well, that's how it's always gonna be,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com on Tuesday. “I think we got set back when I hurt myself, Khris came back, and even before that, Khris hurt himself when I was back, right? We didn't have a lot of time to figure it out.”
Antetokounmpo, an early favorite for MVP, made lunch meat of Parker and any Bull who dared step into his path. It didn’t take long for Antetokounmpo’s engine to match Parker’s early fury, yet Antetokounmpo had the juice.
Plowing through anyone wearing red on the break and in new coach Mike Budenholzer’s set offense, he seemed perfectly at home in his first preseason game in a building he’ll have afire for the foreseeable future.
His 19 points, 13 rebounds and five assists were accomplished by barely breaking a sweat—as he showed only a pinch of the devastating effect he’ll have on opposing defenses once the games count.
Having trouble with the likes of a matchup problem like Antetokounmpo is nothing to hang your hat over, but everything else seemed to be a problem for the Bulls.
The basics, like moving the ball to open shooters and going through progressions offensively seemed to be a problem, along with the simple task of getting back on defense was too much to ask on this night.
“I was upset with everything,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who promised a tough practice Thursday. “We weren’t getting back, we let our lack of shot-making affect our overall game as far as edge and effort. Our transition defense was not good and we weren’t getting matched up coming back.”
Hoiberg was clearly miffed at the way his team was executing, repeatedly taking timeouts in the second quarter as the lead ballooned to 20 at the half, capped off by an Eric Bledsoe triple at the buzzer from half court.
The Bulls again struggled from deep, shooting just 17 percent, but it extended to the other parts of the floor as they just shot 32 percent—and mind you, this is a preseason game where intensity on defense hasn’t been ramped up.
“I think in the first quarter, we felt really good,” Zach LaVine said. “In the second quarter we looked like a tired team. They looked good, like they had their legs. They looked like us our first game. It’s good adversity for us when it hits.”
Airballs were more common than good shots and aside from a spurt from Bobby Portis, not too many wearing red could say they brought a game on that two-hour bus ride from Chicago to Milwaukee.
“Transition, they did a good job of getting it up there,” LaVine said. “They were the more aggressive team and, like I said, we looked like a tired team. We need to come out better.”
LaVine was kneed in the thigh in the third quarter and limped to the bench. It was deemed a right thigh contusion and he didn’t return, as from a distance it looked like he was limping on his right knee.
“It felt like a charley horse,” LaVine said. “I could’ve come back into the game but it was no need to. I’m OK. I’m a little tight now but I’ll be alright.”
Too bad he couldn’t say the same for his team with the same assuredness.