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Bucks vs. Bulls Preview: All-Star Break Beckons For Slumping Bucks, Surging Bulls

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2011/2012 NBA Season

13-19 (6-11 away) 26-8 (12-2 home)
February 22, 2012
United Center
7:00 PM CT
Radio: 620 WTMJ TV: FSN Wisconsin
Probable starters:
Brandon Jennings
PG Derrick Rose
Shaun Livingston
SG Ronnie Brewer
Carlos Delfino SF Luol Deng
Ersan Ilyasova PF Carlos Boozer
Jon Leuer C Joakim Noah

(18th) 102.7 - OFFENSE - 107.8 (3rd)
(19th) 104.5 - DEFENSE - 97.6 (2nd)
(12th) 92.9 - PACE - 89.9 (21st)

On the Bulls: Blog-a-Bull / Bulls by the Horns / Bullsville

Having already lost to the Bulls at home and on the road, the Bucks return to Chicago hoping to shake off their latest disappointing loss against the Magic on Monday.

Grantland: Watching Bucks/Nets
Thanks to unklchuk (and perhaps others) for linking to Rafe Bartholomew's entertaining piece over at Grantland about watching the Buccks/Nets game on Sunday. A sampler:

No matter what happens on the court, Skiles reacts with pursed lips and a steely-eyed squint. Like Eastwood's grim-faced veteran in Gran Torino, he'll say to Stephen Jackson: "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have f***ed with? That's me." But really, he's just disappointed by the way the world has changed around him and left him and his values behind. He's got love in his heart for all his players, even Jackson. They just need to abide by Skiles' code. Ilyasova gets it. Luc Mbah a Moute gets it. Jon Leuer gets it. And that's how Skiles, wherever he coaches, always ends up with a team like the Bucks - loads of moxie and light on talent.

Entertaining stuff.

Ersanity. It wasn't quite 29/25, but Ersan Ilyasova didn't suffer much of a letdown following his career night in Jersey, notching his third straight double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds against the Magic. Make no mistake, Ilyasova's putting together a career month with 14.0 ppg, 11.3 rpg, and 1.3 bpg on .420/.500/.800 shooting, helping the Bucks stay afloat despite the absence of Andrew Bogut and now Drew Gooden. For the season he's averaging career-highs in rebound rate (19.3%) and PER, and watching his relentless work on the boards has been one of the few positives of the past few weeks.

What's not clear is where Ilyasova ends up next summer, which is a big reason why the Bucks would be silly not to be exploring trade options as the March 15 deadline draws near. Never one to mince words, Ilyasova told Hoops World recently he would go wherever he's paid the most next summer, and there's a good chance that could be in Europe. Having previously played professionally at both Fenerbahce Ulker and FC Barcelona, Ilyasova signed with Anadolu Efes last summer for a reported 2.7 million net of taxes and made no secret of his preference for staying in Turkey rather than return to MIlwaukee after the lockout was over. It's certainly not an irrational sentiment financially: factoring in taxes and exchange rates, Ilyasova would need roughly a mid-level NBA deal to match the kind of money he earned in Europe last year.

Then again, Ilyasova's current form could very well earn him MLE-type dollars from an NBA team this summer. I wouldn't have expected to be saying that a month ago, but now? Sure, it's possible. I mean, Glen friggin' Davis got more than the MLE last summer, so never underestimate the capacity of NBA GMs to overpay. And gritty, rebounding power forwards who can stick jump shots tend to fit in with pretty much any team, though it's also not certain if Ersan keeps up his current productivity for the rest of the year, much less over the course of a multi-year deal. That's a big reason why I'm still skeptical about Ersan's future in Milwaukee: consistency has never been Ersan's strong suit, there's a good chunk of money already invested in Drew Gooden--but all he needs is one team to be enamored with him to get a very nice NBA payday.

Return of Rose. Bad news for the Bucks: Derrick Rose's back is feeling better. Rose returned from a five-game absence for Monday's 90-79 win over the Hawks, scoring 23 points and adding six assists in 35 minutes. The Bulls have now won six straight against the Bucks overall with Rose averaging 30 ppg and 11 apg over the past three.

The Decline of Jennings. Brandon Jennings' three point shot has been broken for a couple weeks (16/67 since his 7/14 night against Miami), but his finishing at the rim has also been a major issue. Jennings has made just 16/38 fg at the rim over the past 13 games--a serious decline in both attempts and efficiency from earlier in the season when he was converting around 63%. Overall, he hasn't made 50% or better of his shots since January 30 against Detroit (8/15), though he came close against the Magic (9/19).

Also worrying is that Jennings hasn't been creating for others as much either: he's registered more than five assists just once in the last eight games (eight vs. the Cavs).

Walking wounded. Drew Gooden (wrist), Tobias Harris (shoulder contusion), and Stephen Jackson (hamstring) will be unavailable again tonight, giving Scott Skiles ten players with which to work. Charles Gardner writes that Harris took part in shootaround today but won't be put at risk, while Jackson was also unavailable on Monday due to the sore hammy.

Why Skiles had been playing Jackson at all is a bit of a mystery to me at this point--all Jackson generally does is play poorly in limited minutes and then complain about Skiles and his situation to reporters afterwards. Is this the Bucks' idea of showcasing Jackson? That's all I can think of, though I'm not sure playing an underachieving Jackson will do anything to make another team want to acquire him.