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Bucks vs. Bulls Preview | Skeleton crews meet at United Center

Injuries and underachievement have been recurring themes for the Bucks and Bulls.

Jonathan Daniel
2013 NBA Preseason
(4-16, 2-8 road)
(8-10, 6-2 home)
December 10, 2013
United Center | Chicago, IL
7:00 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 Nazr Mohammed
2012/13 Advanced Stats
91.5 (26th) Pace 91.1 (25th)
97.7 (28th) ORtg 101.0 (24th)
106.9 (24th) DRtg 100.8 (4th)

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

Bulls update. Things can change quickly in the NBA. In late October, the Bulls were coming off a perfect 7-0 preseason led by a healthy and dominant Derrick Rose. Title talk was in the air, and why not? Led by Tom Thibodeau's defensive brilliance, the Bulls had won 45 games and made it to the second round of the playoffs without the 2011 league MVP.  With Rose appearing fully recovered from his torn ACL, who knew how good this team could be?

Alas, it's a question to which we may never know the answer. Rose's preseason magic had vanished by opening night--witness his 35.4% shooting and 10.1 PER in 10 regular season games--before another major knee injury (this time a torn meniscus in his other knee) appeared to take a wrecking ball to the Bulls' season. Tack on nagging injuries to starters Luol Deng (Achilles) and Jimmy Butler (turf toe), and it's perhaps not surprising that the Bulls have lost seven of nine and three of four, including a 17-point home loss to the Pistons on Saturday.

BIG. The Bulls went ultra-big Saturday in Deng's absence, starting big man Taj Gibson (21 pts, 10 rebs) at small forward next to Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Certainly makes some sense against the Pistons' physical front three of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith; against the Bucks it seems like overkill, but not the kind that will necessarily hurt the Bulls' chances. Khris Middleton will have to take advantage of Gibson on the perimeter because it could be another long night on the defensive boards for the Bucks. Either way, it's not like the Bulls have a ton of options either way right now. They went just eight deep against Detroit, with Marquis Teague, Mike Dunleavy, and Nazr Mohammed the only reserves to see action.

Even so, this is not a team that seems likely to go in the tank anytime soon. They're once again a top-five defensive team because they make you miss (3rd in eFG) and don't foul (3rd in free throw rate), all of which compensates for an offense that doesn't do anything well beyond crash the offensive boards (4th).  They have five guys with PERs above 15.0 and six guys with WS/48 above .100--neither group including Rose--which tells you that most of their rotation guys have been legitimately productive. In contrast, John Henson is only Buck rotation player who fits in either category. Ouch.

B*U*C*K*S.  As for Larry Drew's crew...well, they're as banged-up as ever. The latest injury report had Zaza Pachulia out a month with a fractured foot, Gary Neal missing practice with the plantar fasciitis that's been bothering him all year, and Caron Butler out another week or ten days with a sprained knee. They did get some good news with Larry Sanders having the pin removed from his injured thumb. Via Andrew Gruman:

The next step is to see how he responds in the coming days and there's still no timetable on his return. Sanders said a few weeks ago that getting the pin out and the hard cast off were big steps and the biggest remaining hurdles would be catching and holding a basketball.

The upside? Well, you already know that by now. All the veteran injuries mean more burn for Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and possibly Nate Wolters, which is the only thing that had made this team vaguely watchable thus far.

Drew vs. Giannis. The hottest topic in the world of Bucks basketball: how to keep Mr. Antetokounmpo on the court. Ultimately it's a decision that belongs to Larry Drew, which is why Alex Boeder's latest piece is a must-read.

I've always said, this kid will grow a lot faster being out on that floor than he will sitting on the bench. It's good to see him trying to make the most of it. And I have said it before, I was very intrigued by the fact that he is a guy who, if he is not scoring points, he does other things on the floor that affect the game. Whether it is rebound or a blocked shot or a good pass. He doesn't have to score to be noticed out on the floor.

I see his confidence growing as well. He is getting into the mindset of knowing our league and knowing the level at which he has to play every night when he steps out on the floor. He is learning every night. One of the things that I was most concerned about bringing him on board was understanding this game. When we go through game plan, game strategy, is he really picking everything up? He will nod his head and say he is. And he is. He understands it. When he doesn't know, he asks questions. But right now when he steps on the floor you can see he is really bubbly. And he loves being out there. And it looks like he is having fun. And that is important.

Master of Puppets. Henson is elevating his game since joining the starting lineup, averaging 34.3 mpg, 15.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, and 1.5 bpg on 53% shooting in four games in December. Just give us those numbers every night and we'll all be very happy, John.