Bucks may try to get more physical in Game 2 vs. Bulls


Bucks may try to get more physical in Game 2 vs. Bulls

If Game 1 is the courting phase of a typical playoff series, the second game is usually the adjustment game, especially for a young team like the Milwaukee Bucks.

And considering Jason Kidd made a couple poignant comments after the game, one can surmise at the very least, more attention paid to and physical treatment to one Derrick Rose.

Rose got to the basket whenever he chose to in the Bulls’ 103-91 win Saturday, leading to the Bucks coach bemoaning how easy it was, believing it set up Rose to hit those three triples in the third that put some distance between the two teams.

“He showcased he can do layups very well,” Kidd said. “He got to the rim without resistance and whenever you do that, the jumpshots, the basket is big and he knocked those down in the second half.”

[MORE: Game 1 - The 5 most important statistics from Bulls-Bucks]

You don’t have to read between the lines to see what Kidd meant there, and it wouldn’t be stretch to see more aggressive play with Rose. The final score says one thing but the game was well within reach with eight minutes left in the third quarter before it was blown open. So Kidd likely believes Rose’s explosion merits more treatment.

“We were in a good seat,” Kidd said. “We had some layups that we couldn’t convert when we had the numbers. Now we gotta go back and look and figure out how to get one on Monday.”

The Bucks are already one of the league’s most versatile defensive teams, the single most impressive aspect that brought them from a 15-win team last season to a six-seed in the East.

“They’re a very good defensive team. They’ve been that all year,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “People have been physical with Derrick before. Derrick has a very unique skill set because he combines the power and strength with the speed and quickness. That type of stuff he handles very well.”

[MORE: Rose's return to the big stage met by hopeful crowd]

Thibodeau and Bulls reserve Taj Gibson agreed the series will only get more physical as it progresses. And it’s not like the Bucks gave the Bulls the kid gloves treatment in Game 1, as Pau Gasol and the rest of the bigs were knocking each other around like pinballs for most of the night.

“They’re doubling Pau more,” Thibodeau said. “They have a very aggressive defense, trapping dribble handoffs, pick-and-rolls, the low post. You gotta be ready to handle that.”

Gasol became a main point of attention due to his career-high 46-point game in an earlier meeting. It resulted in the Bucks meeting Gasol past halfcourt, knocking him off his spots and forcing him to take more jump shots. That approach worked in Game 1, as he shot just five for 17.

“I guess that made them react,” Gasol said. “Just like they’ll probably react to something we did yesterday differently. So we just got be ready for the adjustments that they’re going to make against us, read the game, and make it easy for each other.’’

But the Bucks have to pick and choose who they swarm, and the Bulls have three guys who can easily score 20 points in Gasol, Rose and Jimmy Butler. But Rose being the point guard means he has more control than the others.

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“It opens up the offense for a lot of other guys,” Gibson said. “It makes it much more easier, takes a load off Jimmy and Pau, guys that are struggling at first but get in a rhythm late. That’s real big for us late in the game, especially those big time 3-pointers when we need them.”

Gibson, who said he’s okay after straining his right knee in the second half, expects the intensity and physical play to ramp up from the Bucks.

“I feel better today,” Gibson said. “I’m starting to give a lot of respect to football players. When you go 100 miles per hour every play in the playoffs, things are gonna happen. But I feel fine.

“Yeah it’s gonna be more physical. I know that for a fact. After the first game every one is a lot more intense.”

NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14 game win streak

USA Today

NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14 game win streak

With the NBA season hitting the quarter pole, it’s a good time to check in on how the MVP race is shaping up.

After blowing a two games to none lead against Toronto in last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo vowed to come back better than ever this season, and he’s done exactly that, improving his averages in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.

The one knock on Antetokounmpo had been his lack of a consistent outside shot, and while he’s still only shooting 31.6% from beyond the arc, he’s made at least three shots from long distance in three of his last seven games.

The Bucks are currently riding a 14 game winning streak after blowing out a very good Clippers’ team at Fiserv Forum last Friday. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers even joked about the result, saying, “It was Giannis’ 25th birthday, and we searched all over the city to find a gift, and we couldn’t find one, so we gave him this one. That’s all I can come up with because we were awful.”

Antetokounmpo still has to prove he can get the Bucks to the Finals, but through the first 23 games, he’s clearly the favorite to win his 2nd straight MVP award.

LeBron James’ Lakers are actually a half game ahead of the Bucks for the NBA’s best record at the start of the new week. James leads the NBA in assists, something that hasn’t been done by a player who doesn’t play the guard position since Wilt Chamberlain. James would rank 2nd on my MVP rankings at the quarter pole.

I wrote about Luka Doncic in last week’s power rankings, and after averaging a triple double in November and leading the Mavericks to an unexpected strong start in the West, Luka would be number three, followed by NBA scoring leader James Harden and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.

Now on to this week’s rankings. Check them out here. 

Without linear growth, the silver linings of Bulls' loss to Heat ring hollow

USA Today

Without linear growth, the silver linings of Bulls' loss to Heat ring hollow

Trailing the Heat 108-105 with four seconds remaining in overtime, the ball found Lauri Markkanen. He was pinned in the corner and leaning away from the basket, but still, he got a clean 3-point attempt off. If the shot fell, it would have tied the game.

But it didn't. Instead, the high-arching jumper clanged off the side of the rim. And when it did, Coby White — who enjoyed, in many ways, a career performance in this game — slumped over. The response befitted the performance.

"Nobody likes to lose. We're not happy with the loss," Jim Boylen said. "I got a frustrated group of guys in there that want to win."

It's a defeat that, on its face, should be swallowable. In it, the Bulls played one of the league's best teams in the Heat down to the wire, in an arena they haven't lost in this season. 

The silver linings were abundant: The Bulls won the first quarter, an area Boylen has often emphasized. They got standout performances from Markkanen (team-high 22 points), Kris Dunn (16 points, three steals, 6-for-9 shooting) and White (11 points, eight assists, 3-for-7 from 3-point range, closed the fourth quarter and OT). They outshot one of the NBA's most prolific offenses and held Jimmy Butler to 3-for-14 shooting. Sure, he went to the free throw line 21 times, but he also didn't break the Bulls' back with clutch buckets down the stretch.

"It's real hard. But we gave them some game goals, and they accomplished them," Boylen said. "First quarter start. Be more physical. For the most part, our defensive rebounding was really good. Our transition D was really good. Our physicality was good. We moved the ball, we executed. We ran things to get open shots.

"We did a lot of really good thing and that's what I have to look at. Ultimately, you want to win. I cannot take away from the good things we do and the growth we're making. But it hurts."

Yet, something feels especially hollow about this loss. Even sour. But perhaps that's more about what came before tonight. Talk of growth doesn't resonate without assurance that said growth will continue to occur lineally, and that hasn't happened for the Bulls. Just last week, they sparked their first win streak of the season with victories over the Kings and Grizzlies. Steps forward. Then, a massive step back in falling to the 5-19 Warriors on Friday.

The tropes that pervaded the Golden State game reared their head again tonight. Zach LaVine was 1-for-6 between the fourth quarter and overtime. Loose balls found the wrong hands. Crucial defensive lapses late aided Tyler Herro nailing four 3-pointers (including the eventual game-winner) over the game's last six minutes.

"The one that [Herro] put up before the overtime, Shaq actually did a good job on [Butler] defensively and I thought [Butler] was gonna shoot the ball, so I went in there and crashed," Dunn said of the 3-pointer Herro hit to put the Heat up 97-95 with 7.1 seconds left in regulation. "[Butler] made an unselfish play, a great play out to Tyler Herro and he knocked it down... Jimmy does draw a lot of attention, he's a good player, but we have to be defensively sound. And, for me, that last play before the overtime, that was on me."

At 8-16, the Bulls simply can't afford to be happy with an 'encouraging' loss, even if they wish they could be. The balance of finding and taking the positives from this defeat while at the same reconciling that this season is escaping them is a difficult one.

"[Winning] is important, but I have to measure this — third-youngest team in the league, this young group — in other ways than that. I have to. That's what we're building, that's what we're developing," Boylen said.

"Definitely frustrated to lose, but we played well, a lot of guys played well," Dunn said. "Good thing about the NBA, games come quick... Tomorrow, we play Toronto at home so hopefully bring the same intensity and get the win there."

If that win is of the moral variety, the burning issues facing this team aren't like to dissipate soon.

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