Rivalry renewed. So who wants to win the Central? Anyone? No?
Even with Derrick Rose expected out for much of the season, the Bulls entered the season as presumptive Central favorites along with the Pacers. But neither Indiana nor Chicago is exactly living up to that billing quite yet, with both clubs entering Saturday's action under .500.
That means the Bucks will wake up on Sunday morning as Central Division leaders no matter what happens on Saturday, though that's really besides the point. Having blown late leads in both Charlotte and Miami, the Bucks could really use a bounce back, particularly with a trip to Chicago beckoning on Monday followed by a date with the Atlantic-leading Knicks on Wednesday. Both of those games are of course winnable, but the matter of actually winning them...well, that's the hard part. Milwaukee has dropped eight in a row to Tom Thibodeau's club and Bucks fans have increasingly been drowned out by visitors from the South at the Bradley Center in recent years, which has made the supposed rivalry between the clubs feel rather one-sided.
Of course, this is a new season and it's not just a fluke that the Bucks sit atop the Central. No one knows exactly when Rose will be back (after the all-star break?), the Bulls have dropped three straight on their current five game road trip, and the Bucks do finally have the size to bang with the Bulls inside. We couldn't say that last year, as Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik all took their turns beating the Bucks up down low. Thankfully, Milwaukee has gotten bigger and longer while the Bulls aren't quite as scary with Asik gone and only Nazr Mohammed brought in to provide depth behind the go-to trio of Noah, Boozer and Gibson.
Starters. Rotations have been a talking point of late for the Bulls, though Thibodeau told reporters on Friday that he was not planning to change up the Bulls' starting lineup for Saturday's game in Milwaukee. The Bulls' starting five currently features Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton in the backcourt, though Nate Robinson and former Marquette standout Jimmy Butler got the call in the fourth quarter of the Bulls' 93-89 loss to Houston on Wednesday. That loss gave Thibodeau his first three game losing streak as Bulls' coach, and our very own Steve von Horn writes that it was the Bulls' normally precise defense that had Thibodeau most concerned.
"Everyone has a responsibility in your team scheme, pick-and-roll defense, so we have to stay disciplined and we have to stay attached, and we can't make things up and so, the fourth quarter's different. Your intensity is higher and we have to stay disciplined on the defensive end, and understand on the offensive end, everything's going to happen quicker, so you can't try to thread the needle in those situations. You've got to make the first, simple pass. We have to know what our looks are in order, okay? And that's something we've got to work on."
Controlling the boards. The Bulls' size advantage a year ago was most obvious on the boards, where the Bucks simply couldn't stop Chicago from racking up second chance opportunities. But this year's Bucks continue to lead the league in defensive rebound rate (77.0%) after finishing 25th last year, while the Bulls have dropped from first in offensive rebounding a year ago to tenth so far this season.
No threes. We often bemoan the Bucks' lack of three point shooting depth, but it's worth noting that the Bulls rank dead last in both total makes and attempts while ranking 29th in percentage (28.5%). They haven't hit more than six three pointers in any of their 11 games this season, and they've hit just 8/46 during their current losing streak, which of course means that they're due to hit a dozen or so against the Bucks, right? In case you're wondering, the Bucks are 22nd, 20th and 25th (31.5%), respectively, in makes, attempts and percentage. Similarly, the Bucks hit just 7/45 from long range combined their losses in Charlotte and Miami, though they hit a fantastic 13/25 a week ago against the Hornets.
Luc practices. Charles Gardner writes that Luc Mbah a Moute participated in non-contact drills and two-on-two work Friday, paving the way for his long-awaited return to the lineup--eventually.
"It's good," Mbah a Moute said. "I'm excited to be back playing, doing basketball stuff at least."
Skiles said he wasn't sure of the timetable for Mbah a Moute, in part because the Bucks play every other day and have little practice time in the next week.
"I'd like to see him get in a five-on-five-type scrimmage a bit before he gets activated," Skiles said. "If I've got to put somebody else on the inactive list that's healthy because I want to activate him, we've got to see him play some."