The Chicago Bulls are finally back in the playoffs for the first time since 2017. The last few games of the playoff race saw the Bulls going on a four-game losing streak prior to Sunday's Minnesota game. The Bulls avoided the play-in tournament and getting the sixth seed with the Cleveland Cavilers also going on a slide. With the Bulls position unable to change, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Alex Caruso, and Coby White all did not play against Minnesota.
Sunday was still entertaining since the Bulls had three different potential opponents. The options were the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls matched the best with the Celtics. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks and Joel Embiid of the 76ers have man handled the Bulls, so fans were hoping to avoid those teams at all cost. It did not work out that way. The Bucks lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers and were jumped with the Celtics win over the Grizzles.
Bulls vs. Bucks Season Recap
The Bulls and Bucks and set to take the battle of the border to a new level. While the season was mostly low key, the Bucks games were very close battles and gave a playoff atmosphere.
- January 21 at Milwaukee, Loss 94-90
- March 4 vs. Milwaukee, Loss 118-112
- March 22 at Milwaukee, Loss 126-98
- April 5 vs. Milwaukee, Loss 127-106
The January loss reignited the I-94 rivalry. The Bulls were without Zach LaVine and leaning on DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 35 points. It was a game until Grayson Allen injured Alex Caruso on a dirty play at the rim. Allen was now Bulls public enemy number one. The Bulls just let the back and forth game slip in crunch time.
The Bucks didn't make the trip down to the United Center until March 4. This match up was full of high paced energy. LaVine, DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic all clicked and finished with 30, 29, and 19, respectively. It was the first time all three had solid performances. The Bulls even had a lead in the fourth quarter. The deterring factor in the loss was the lack of defense in a scoring track meet. Caruso was still recovering from the Allen incident and Lonzo Ball was out with knee issues.
In the March 22 matchup, the Bulls returned Caruso to the rotation, but just fell flat on their faces defensively. The Bulls let all of Milwaukee's starters reach double figures. The game was over in the first quarter. At this point of the year, teams had really schemed against the Bulls' lack luster defense. The play has been forcing the Bulls into a pick and roll defense.
The April 5 game saw the Bulls without LaVine and Ball out, but returned second-year player Patrick Williams to the lineup. However, he Bulls were terrible on defense from the tip. Every Bulls player except Tony Bradley was a zero or negative in the plus/minus column.
Predictions For The Series
With the Bulls getting a week off, there is a chance for the team to get healthy, although LaVine and Caruso's injures are lingering and can flare up at anytime. Patrick Williams looks healthy with the last game of the year being his best. He dropped 35 points showing he is capable of his offensive potential.
Even though the Bulls were 0-4 against the Bucks, they had two very competitive games in the first two meetings. Both games could have gone in the Bulls favor if they had their full playoff roster. The concern is that the last two games were very bad losses. The defense was in shambles trying to figure out how to guard Giannis without drawing extra defenders. Khris Middleton and company were able to hit the wide open shots from behind the arc. Early leads were very tough to overcome even with DeRozan and LaVine scoring 25+ points each. Someone else will have to step up on both ends of the floor to make this a competitive series.
How the Bulls Can Win the Series
DeRozan and LaVine both have to be healthy and score in unison to keep Milwaukee's defense honest. If one goes cold and the other gets doubled, the Bulls will be packing early.
Next, the Bulls need to force Giannis to be a high volume shooter and do most of his scoring outside the paint. The Bulls have been one of the worse defensive teams int the paint this year. With Antetokounmpo's size, the entire Bulls roster is at a mismatch. Getting help defense and forcing him to shoot will help tire him out.
The next key is cover the the rest of the Bucks players, especially at the three-point line. When Giannis has gotten in the paint previously, the entire Bulls defense has crashed giving Antetokounmpo the ability to pass to wide open shooters. This gave the Bucks early first quarter leads in the last two games of the year. The key is communication between who is helping and who is rotating if there is a pass. It has plagued the Bulls all year and there is no more help coming.
Lastly, there will need to be an extra step forward from Patrick Williams. No one in the league can guard Antetokounmpo, but Williams' size and athletic ability are perfectly modeled to slow him down. He just needs to play with the same confidence he had in the last game against Minnesota.
Here are the Bulls On Tap crews predictions for the series:
Matt Berklan: Bucks 4-1
The Bulls have been struggling on defense going into the series. As mentioned above, there are ways for the Bulls to make the series competitive, but it will just be overwhelming. The scoring duo of LaVine and DeRozan should be able to steal a game or two at home, but that will be it. The Bucks are more complete, and outsize the Bulls in the paint. Unless we see the Bulls defense pull a 180, the series will be short and sweet in Milwaukee's favor.
Buzz: Bucks 4-2
The Bulls will steal one at home and suprisingly one on the road.
The defending champions experience will be way too much for the Bulls to overcome. The Bucks have the best player on the floor in this series in Giannis. He will always find a way to get it done. Also, the Bucks' size will be too hard to overcome.
Bull Scripted: Bucks 4-1
The Bulls will take the first game at the United Center, but that will be it. The Bucks outmatch the Bulls and there is no denying it. The Bucks being reigning champions will likely negate the border battle advantage that once existed for the Bulls. Fans always travel well, but with Milwaukee having a potential dynasty on their hands, taking over their stands will be near impossible. The Bulls are simply outgunned without Zo.
Drew Stevens: Bucks 4-1
Having six days off to reset, rest, and prepare helps the Bulls steal the first game of the series.
From there, I see the Bucks tightening up and doing all of the little things—fighting over screens, rotating properly, boxing out, etc.—that the Bulls haven’t done on a consistent basis lately. Bucks in five.
Colby Marchio: Bucks 4-0
The Bulls have not shown any reason to believe they could win anything outside of possibly one game in this series. The team has little-to-no playoff experience. They are 8-15 since the break and their defensive efficiency rating is 119 during that span. In addition, they are 0-4 against the Bucks this season.
Pat Boadway: Bucks 4-0
The Bulls are getting swept. They're completely outmatched, totally cooked on offense, and haven't been able to stop any of the good teams on defense for the last two months.
What's On Tap Next?
The Bucks and Bulls begin their playoff series this Sunday, April 17 in Milwaukee. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. CDT from Fiserv Forum just north of the border. Be sure to tune in to Bulls On Tap for a recap of the action as the Bulls take the court in the playoffs for the first time since 2017.