News/analysis/discussion after the jump
Bogut starting. So it would seem the rule of thumb is that when Bogut gets a bizarre strain or sprain of his leg, then he's likely to come back way ahead of schedule. It happened before the 06/07 season, and now it's happening again. Bogut was injured on November 18th but is slated to return just 12 days and six games later, two days sooner than even the optimistic side of the 2-4 week estimate initially given. And it couldn't happen at a better time, as the Bucks have been getting crushed on the glass and have been a mostly one-dimensional jump-shooting team in his absence. Jennings might be the flash, but Bogut would appear to still be the Bucks' most indispensable player. He played well even while struggling with the back injury that eventually shelved him last season, so I'd guess he'll be a big boost even if he's not quite hitting on all cylinders. Jim Paschke has more below:
Luck? Both teams will be entering the evening on four game losing streaks--the Bulls having lost four in a row on a Western swing, while the Bucks dropped the last three on their Western trip before falling on Saturday night by a bucket to the East-leading Magic. One big difference between the clubs? How they're losing. Thanks to a handful of close losses, the Bucks' actual record is slightly below the record you'd project based purely from their points for and against (.533 vs. .555). The Bulls on the other hand haven't just been losing--they've been losing big. So while their 6-8 (.429) mark has them tied with Indiana for the 8th spot in the East, their projected record based on scoring differential is near the bottom of the league (.276)--with only Minnesota (1-15) and New Jersey (0-17) worse. Fittingly, their last four losses came by margins of 19, 24, 19, and 15 points, respectively.
Of course, that's not the end of the story. One reason why the Bulls' differential is so ugly has to do with their schedule. Per ESPN, the Bulls' schedule has been the third toughest in the league thus far, while the Bucks still have the weakest opponent winning percentage in the league. We'll see what it means tomorrow night, but this is definitely the most winnable game in the next five (Chi, @Was, @Det, Cle, @Bos). So if the Bucks are going to snap their losing streak, tomorrow's the logical place to start.
Injuries. Both teams will be missing key rotation players:
Bogut and likely Mbah a Moute and Redd for the Bucks, and Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich for Chicago. Hinrich hurt his left thumb in practice last week and missed their game on Thanksgiving Day, and is expected to see a specialist Monday to determine the full extent of the damage. It also seems that Michael Redd will miss a second straight game as he tries to get his left knee "right." Per Charles Gardner:
"When you play in game motion, you really find out if you're ready or not," Redd said in the Bucks locker room before Saturday's game. "Explosion is not there yet, and it's obvious. Just not finishing, not getting above the rim.
"I noticed it last night and I was able to tell the trainers, 'We need to get this right before I get back.' We're going to work towards it. Let's get it stronger and get it right."
If Redd is waiting until he becomes an above-the-rim player this could take a while. Like forever. But especially with Bogut returning, there's no sense in rushing Redd back before he's ready to go. We saw that Redd at half speed doesn't make the Bucks a better team, so now the question becomes how long it takes him to get closer to full speed--and what "full" speed means at this point.