Neither the Bucks nor Bulls are where they imagined they'd be back in October. But while the Bucks continue to flounder, the Bulls continue to show signs of life even without Derrick Rose and the newly-traded Luol Deng.
In two months the Bulls have devolved from title hopeful to possible lottery fodder, a presumed death spiral that was only further accelerated by Chicago's decision earlier this week to deal all-star wing Luol Deng to the Cavaliers for three picks and Andrew Bynum's partially guaranteed deal. Bynum was subsequently waived to save the other half of his $12 million salary, while Deng and his expiring deal join a Cavalier squad desperate to make the playoffs despite a miserable 12-23 start to the season. In return the Bulls saved some money and added two future second round picks and a 2014 protected first, one that they're unlikely to see this year (the Kings would have to finish outside the top 12 in the lottery).
It's a white flag deal for Chicago, at least for this season, but most have graded it a necessary evil for a Bulls team that had already seen its ambitions derailed by Derrick Rose's second season-ending knee injury in as many years. With a presumed amnesty of Carlos Boozer in the summer providing additional cap space to pursue free agents, the Bulls could reload next fall with a healthy (?) Rose, a solid free agent signing, two first round picks (they also own Charlotte's) and 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic, the highly-touted 22-year-old whom many have dubbed the best player outside North America.
Then again, we probably shouldn't assume that the Bulls' supposed "death spiral" will actually kill them. Tom Thibodeau won 45 games without Rose a year ago, and while that squad also had Deng and better overall depth, the current Bulls squad hasn't folded up shop either. They've won three straight and six of their last eight to improve to 15-18 , good for sixth in the woeful East, and their second-ranked defense presumably won't fall apart anytime soon. Bottom line: never count out Thibs, even if injuries and the Bulls' front office are conspiring to give him less and less to work with. Speaking of which, the latest rumors suggest that the Rockets could make a play for Deng's replacement in the starting lineup (and Brew Hoop favorite), the ageless wonder known as Mike Dunleavy.
Deng had already missed 10 games this season, so on the one hand his absence won't be anything new to the Bulls. Still, the organization's decision to deal the popular Deng was no doubt a bitter pill for the remaining guys in the locker room, and the question remains as to whether they can keep this up knowing that both Rose and Deng aren't coming back this season. They looked defiant in taking down the Suns on Tuesday, but they still have 49 games to go.
Hypothetical question for the comments: if Thibs had taken over the Bucks this summer, how many wins would the Bucks would have right now?
"When I go back and watch film, there's a part of me that says, 'No, we're not learning,' " Drew said. "We're still making the same mistakes, we're still doing the same things we did back in Week 1. A lot of it is not about Xs and Os. It's about Basketball 101, natural instincts on different things. We've got to be better at it."
Drew was quick to point out that the team continues to be "upbeat" despite their woeful record, though it seems obvious that he's fighting a losing battle in a more general sense. Off-ball movement could be charitably described as nonchalant, lazy perimeter passes are all too common, and defensive energy has been inconsistent to say the least.
Break points. As Jim Paschke notes, the road team has won each of the last seven games between these clubs, with the teams splitting a tight home-and-home back in December. The Bulls winning in Milwaukee isn't that surprising--traveling Bulls fans have often drowned out the home fans in recent years, and the Bulls' general superiority helps too. But why the Bucks have won three in a row in Chicago is a bit less logical.
Injuries. Ersan Ilyasova banged up his right hand in Tuesday's loss to the Warriors, but participated in practice with a wrap on Wednesday before sitting out Thursday altogether. Hobo Ersan mercifully snapped his 0/20 slump from deep with a pair of triples against Golden State, though a hand injury isn't exactly good news for a guy shooting 18.5% from deep.
No word yet on whether John Henson (high ankle sprain) may return to the Bucks' lineup this weekend. The second-year big man had hoped he might be ready to go either tonight or tomorrow in Oklahoma City, but only returned to full practice on Thursday. There's no sense in rushing him back given the circumstances of the season, but it would be nice to see one of the Bucks' few interesting players actually in uniform, right?
Joakim Noah piled up 14 pts, 16 rebs and 6 assists in Tuesday's win over Phoenix, but was battling an illness on Thursday and is a question mark for tonight's game, while Carlos Boozer is expected to play after missing the last two games with soreness in his knee.
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