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Bulls vs. Bucks Preview | Once more, with feeling

Three days after an almost unwatchable 78-74 Milwaukee win at the United Center, the injury-ravaged I-94 rivalry heads North to Milwaukee.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
2013/14 NBA Season
(5-17, 2-9 home)
(8-12, 2-9 away)
December 13, 2013
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:30 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ / Audio League Pass
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight PG Kirk Hinrich
O.J. Mayo SG Tony Snell
Khris Middleton SF Mike Dunleavy
Ekpe Udoh PF Carlos Boozer
John Henson C Joakim Noah
2012/13 Advanced Stats
91.3 (27th) Pace 90.8 (28th)
96.8 (30th) ORtg 99.7 (27th)
106.6 (24th) DRtg 100.0 (3rd)

On the Bulls: Blog a Bull | By the Horns | BullsvilleBucks Game Notes | Bulls Game Notes

Bulls update. Not a good time in Bulls land. Too injured to contend but likely too talented and well-coached to sink into the Eastern abyss, the Bulls continue to hang onto the eighth seed despite having lost three straight and eight of ten.  And that shouldn't be surprising: losing Derrick Rose to (another) season-ending knee injury is bad enough, but losing three more starters in Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler on top of that is damn near untenable. Not even Mike Dunleavy (20 ppg over his last three...HEART YOU MIKE!) is that good.

And it's shown on the court, with this little factoid telling you pretty much all you need to know about the Bulls' horrendous play of late:

Chicago, which has shot 34.7 percent while averaging 75.7 points in the last three games, has not scored fewer than 80 in four consecutive contests since Nov. 24-Dec. 1, 2001.

The upside for Chicago--you know, putting aside those pro-tank rumblings emanating from the Windy City--is that while the Bulls are losing, they don't seem to be lost. Not quite yet at least. After missing Tuesday's loss to the Bucks, Noah returned in the Bulls' loss at MSG on Wednesday and may get some reinforcements tonight.

Newly-signed point guard D.J. Augustin should also be available tonight, offering Tom Thibodeau another dull knife in his cupboard full of cheaply-made cutlery. Sorry Kirk Hinrich (33% shooting) and Marquis Teague (22.4%), but I saw Tuesday's debacle. And I saw this bit of magic from Wednesday. And I know that Teague has a negative PER right now (-1.9...yes, it's possible).

The Bulls also figure to have plenty of fans cheering them on, as the Bucks' sagging home attendance figures may make tonight's contest as much of a home game for Chicago as what they experienced on Tuesday.

Spurred and feathered. Conventional wisdom says the Bucks were going to get throttled against the Spurs on Wednesday, but when you trail an NBA game by 38 points it's not just a matter of the other team being good. Larry Drew breaks it down:

"I didn't think we competed very well at the very beginning, particularly in the first quarter," Drew said. "The second unit came in and gave us some energy but by that time it was too big of a deficit to overcome. We did not compete on a high level tonight. We can't use excuses on injury, on having played last night.

"We faced a really good basketball team tonight, but the disappointment lies in that we didn't compete at a high level, we didn't lay it on the line. We didn't play as hard as we could have.

The fact that we've heard Drew make comments like that pretty regularly is probably the most obvious reason why a big turnaround just doesn't seem to be in the cards this season. It seems like the Bucks have a group of "good guys," but the focus and effort needed to compete on a nightly basis in the NBA requires a lot more than just honest professionals. And the worse things get, the less likely it is that we see absolute maximum effort and belief every night. A healthy and productive Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova would make a difference, but there are bigger problems that seem less likely to be solved. Part of that is human nature, and part of it also seems to be the unique fabric of the current team, which simply doesn't have the talent level to afford off shooting nights or so-so efforts.

Thankfully, we still have the performances of the Bucks' young players to keep us vaguely engaged. Tuesday it was John Henson doing the business with a big 25 points, 14 boards and six blocks, while Wednesday it was Giannis Antetokounmmpo making the most of a whole game's worth of garbage time with career-highs of 15 points and eight boards.