Bulls

What to watch for: Bulls face an uphill battle against Milwaukee Bucks

What to watch for: Bulls face an uphill battle against Milwaukee Bucks

On the heels of an epic comeback over the Cavaliers on Saturday, the Bulls visit the Bucks in search of a signature win. The game tips off at 4 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Bucks’ last five games: (5-0)

  • Jan. 18 — W at Nets: 117-97

  • Jan. 16 — W at Celtics: 128-123

  • Jan. 14 — W vs. Knicks: 128-102

  • Jan. 11 — W at Trail Blazers: 122-101

  • Jan. 10 — W at Kings: 127-106

Storyline(s) to watch

There’s a lot working against the Bulls in this one. On top of the Bucks being, far and away, the best team in the NBA so far this season (their current +12.6 point differential is almost two points better than the 2015-16 Warriors), they’re currently in the midst of a six-game win streak and own the league’s second-best home record at 20-2. These teams have met three times already this season, with the Bucks winning all three by an average margin of 14.7 points. The Bulls will be happy the fourth meeting is the last.

It’s another game against a winning team, famously the Bulls’ kryptonite. The comeback over Cleveland was great theater, but the Bucks represent the harshest of reality checks. In those aforementioned three matchups, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.3 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while shooting 56.7%. As a team, the Bucks averaged 55 rebounds per games (to the Bulls' 46), blocked 6.3 shots per game and held the Bulls to a cumulative 39.4% shooting from the field in those three games.

On the flip side, pulling out a win, though unlikely, would be that much more of a confidence boost.

Player(s) to watch: The shooters

Antetokounmpo is borderline unstoppable. The ever-looming threat of him getting rolling is the most pressing issue facing the Bulls today, especially without both of their top two centers. 

But the Bucks are truly devastating to match up with because of the shooting they’ve surrounded him with. As a team, Milwaukee attempts the fourth-most 3-pointers per game (38.8) and cans them at a 36% clip. That’s not mind-bending efficiency, but between *deep breath* George Hill (53.3% from deep, three attempts per game), Kyle Korver (42.6%, 3.9 attempts), Khris Middleton (41.5%, 5.2 attempts), Ersan Ilyasova (37%, 2.5 attempts), Wes Matthews (36%, 4.2 attempts), Eric Bledsoe (35.4%, 3.6 attempts) and others, they’re a threat to have at least one or more guys catch fire from deep every night. Even in a down shooting year, Brook Lopez (29.9%, 4.7 attempts) isn’t afraid to chuck, either, especially above the break.

The Bucks have made at least 10 3-pointers in all but three of their 44 games this season. The bright side? The Bulls are responsible for one of those and have outshot the Bucks from behind the arc in two of their three meet-ups — though, of course, none have resulted in wins.

Matchup to watch: Zach LaVine vs. the Bucks defense

LaVine is the engine behind most every competent offensive stretch of basketball for the Bulls this season, but he's struggled versus Milwaukee, averaging just 18.3 points and 32.2% shooting in their previous three meetings. This season, the Bulls own a 99.8 offensive rating with LaVine off the floor (per Cleaning the Glass) and are 3-10 in games in which he scores under 20 points. LaVine's 31 20-point games are leagues more than the rest of his teammates have combined (20), as are his 14 30-point outings (Lauri Markkanen has two of those).

LaVine is on a rare kind of tear of late, but the Bucks are multiple steps up from the quality of opponent he has been eviscerating. With the unique amount of length and athleticism they'll be able to throw at him (as a team, the Bucks own a 101.4 defensive rating, first in the NBA), the Bulls will have to be creative in finding ways to get LaVine going. If they can't, it will likely spell doom.

Trend to watch: A return to small-ball?

Against the Cavaliers, Boylen rode a new-look lineup of Kris Dunn, LaVine, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Markkanen down the stretch to enormous success. Boylen has stated that he wants everyone on this team to be interchangeable relative a consistent style of play, but the Bulls deviated from their norm and switched a ton of pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter of that game, forcing 10 Cavaliers turnovers while holding them to 14 points and 26.7% shooting.

Yes, that was the Cavs and these are the Bucks. Still, LaVine and Dunn were both highly complimentary of that lineup’s speed and versatility after the game, and it’ll be interesting to see if Boylen goes back to the well with it — or at least starts switching more in pick-and-roll situations as a different look defensively.

Injury report


The Bulls are undermanned in the frontcourt, at present, so evading R. Lopez minutes off the bench is helpful.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Coby White get a chance to start and Boylen's late game timeouts

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Coby White get a chance to start and Boylen's late game timeouts

NBC Sports Chicago podcast producer Tony Gill fills in for host Jason Goff and is joined by Bulls writer for NBC Sports Chicago Rob Schaefer and Bulls beat reporter for the Chicago Tribune Jamal Collier as they discuss Coby White's hot streak, the Kobe Bryant memorial service and Jim Boylen's late game timeout usage.

(2:12) - Kobe Bryant's memorial service was a reminder that he's gone

(10:30) - Jamal Collier's first impression of the 2019-2020 Bulls

(21:18) - Should Coby White start the remainder of the season?

(33:48) - Jim Boylen's timeouts and Zach LaVine's reaction to those timeouts

(47:06) - The 2019-2020 Milwaukee Bucks are one of the greatest teams in NBA history

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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Michael Jordan delivers heart-wrenching eulogy for Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan delivers heart-wrenching eulogy for Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were more than competitors, more than peers... More than even friends. Jordan made as much clear in eulogizing Bryant at a public memorial for him and his daughter Gigi at Staples Center on Monday.

Amid a beautifully numbing overall ceremony, Jordan’s comments struck the perfect balance between reflective, hilarious, heart-warming and gut-wrenching. My words couldn’t possibly do it justice. Here are Jordan’s, in full:

 

“Maybe it would surprise people that Kobe and I are very close friends,” Jordan said. “Kobe was my dear friend, he was like a little brother. Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I. I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”

And so he did. Highlights included a perfectly-timed ‘Crying Jordan’ meme quip and Jordan recalling countless late-night (and early-morning) conversations with Bryant about everything from basketball to business to family. On a day meant to be a celebration of life, Jordan delivered a deeply intimate look into his and Bryant’s relationship, and all the ways Bryant inspired him. It was incredibly powerful.

 

“He wanted to be the best basketball player he could be. As I got to know him, I wanted the best big brother that I could be,” Jordan said.

That manifested in those aforementioned conversations, which Jordan said turned from an “aggravation” to a deep passion over the course of knowing Bryant.

“He knows how to get you in a way that affects you personally, even if he’s being a pain in the ass,” Jordan said. “But you always have a sense of love for him, and the way he can bring out the best in you. And he did that for me.

“I remember maybe a couple months ago, he sends me a text. And he said ‘I’m trying to teach my daughter some moves, and I don’t know what I was thinking or what I was working on, but what were you working on as you were growing up trying to work on your moves?’ I said ‘What age?’ He said: ‘12.’ I said, ‘At 12 I was trying to play baseball’... And this was at 2 o’clock in the morning. But the thing about him is we could talk about anything related to basketball and anything related to life.” 

Jordan’s most emotional moments of speaking came when he detailed Bryant’s passion for basketball and family, and his unwavering desire to make those around him better. Those are the things that will endure.

“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan said. “I promise you, from this day forward, I will live with the memories of knowing that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could.” 

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