Bucks offense stagnates with lack of passing in Game 2 loss


Bucks offense stagnates with lack of passing in Game 2 loss

Early in the third quarter of Game 2, second year swingman Giannis Antetokounmpo took a handoff from Zaza Pachulia on the left wing, dribbled for 6 seconds as the shot clock wound down and missed a 19-footer over Pau Gasol. It was one small sequence in a game the Bucks were competitive throughout, but also a microcosm of the poor offense they've displayed in the first two games of their series with the Bulls.

For a second straight game the defensive minded Bucks struggled from the field, scoring 82 points on a night in which their defense was good enough to earn a victory. And as was the case in Saturday night's loss, ball movement again was the culprit. After a Game 1 in which they passed more than 100 times less than their opponent, per NBA.com, the Bucks were stagnant with the ball in their hands, too often settled for jump shots and failed to capitalize in a game where they turned the ball over just four times. The Bucks finished with 13 assists on 32 made field goals, including two in the decisive fourth quarter of their 91-82 loss.

[MORE: Jimmy Butler comes up big in fourth quarter for Bulls]

It was a stark contrast to what made the Bucks successful this season, ranking 7th in the NBA in assists per game (23.4) and field goals made (62.4 percent). On a team with few, if any, isolation scorers ball movement was bound to be an important tactic against a Bulls defense not giving anything easy. Instead, they took open jumpers Tom Thibodeau's defense was clearly allowing them and didn't take advantage of aggressive run-outs on Chicago's 3-point defense.

"We’re not built like that," said shooting guard O.J. Mayo. "We’ve got to do a better job of creating shots for each other. Offensively 13 assists is not going to cut it."

Added Zaza Pachulia: "It’s terrible for our team, especially the way we’ve been playing all year long sharing the ball."

Still, the Bucks feel as though they're making strides. There were positives to take away from the loss, even on the offensive side of the ball. The four turnovers were a great sign from a team whose rotation features four players making their playoff debuts at 23 years old or younger.

Also, the Bucks were able to find their way into the lane, attempting 43 shots in the paint (though they made just 18 of those). Whereas their first quarter in Game 1, scoring 29 points, was a case of "fool's gold," as Jason Kidd put it, that got the Bucks into thinking they could compete in a shootout, Game 2 featured a slower, half court game where the two teams combined for just eight fast break points.

[RELATED: Bucks get physical in attempt to swing series vs. Bulls]

But ball movement will be the key that takes Milwaukee from simply competing late in games to closing contests out. It's an area in which the Bulls are perhaps playing their best; in the first two games the Bulls have assisted on a whopping 81 percent of their made field goals. That number has largely increased due to the Bucks double-teaming Pau Gasol throughout most of the series, with the Bulls rotating to find open shooters (24 made 3-pointers in the first two games) but it's an area the Bucks can exploit off dribble-drive penetration from Carter-Williams, Antetokounmpo and Mayo.

"We've got to take another step offensively, he said. "The ball's got to move from side-to-side and better shot selection for this young team. It's something we've got to learn on the fly."

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

We all know what Zach LaVine is capable of doing on the offensive side of things. But what about his defense?

It's no secret that LaVine has had his fair share of struggles on defense, but Kris Dunn thinks highly of his 23-year-old teammate and what his potential is at the other end.

"On the defensive end I just told him, 'You're as fast as me. You're more athletic than me. There's no way you shouldn't be a good defender in this league. You could be one of those guys who could be dynamic in the passing lanes because you're so athletic and fast.'" Dunn said of LaVine. "And personally, I like to score. If you get in a passing lane, that's a dunk for yourself and because you've got so much bounce that's when you get the crowd on their feet — maybe do a windmill, a 360, something.

"But I think he's been going a good job on the defensive end. It's not going to be easy. We all got to learn and I think we're all trying."

Improving his defense would obviously be a big step forward for LaVine (and the Bulls), and he knows it. 

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” LaVine said when assessing his preseason. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

LaVine and the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Thursday night in their season opener. You can watch Bulls Pre- and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago before and after the game for highlights and analysis.

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”