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Bucks vs. Bulls preview: Milwaukee heads to the windy city for a potential playoff preview

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucks will play a game away from the BMO Harris Bradley Center for the first time in almost three weeks when they make the short commute south to take on the Chicago Bulls tonight. Both teams are jockeying for position in the Central Division and playoff seeding. If the playoffs ended today, these teams would square off in the first round. What more do you need to get you excited?

Bulls update

Chicago is hanging on to the top spot in the Central, but the road ahead is getting a little bit muddy. For one, the Cleveland Cavaliers seem to have hit their stride and appear poised to make a run at Chicago and maybe Toronto in the standings. Second, the Bulls are battling through their share of injuries. Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich are both ruled out of tonight's game, while Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler are dinged up, but expected to play.

Also, Pau Gasol still exists. Gasol put up 46 on the Bucks the last time these two teams met. He's not injured or anything, but it's probably important to point out that Gasol exists as many times as possible so that he isn't left open as much as last time. That'll work, right?

Will Michael Cater-Williams play?

No. Maybe Wednesday.

Four Factors

What a difference a year makes. A year ago the Derrick Rose-less Bulls were scraping out wins on defense alone, ranking a Thibodeau-ian 2nd defensively and just 28th offensively. But times change, and while everyone figured the Bulls offense would improve with the return of Derrick Rose and addition of Pau Gasol, no one thought this would happen. Entering tonight's matchup with the Bucks, the Bulls are an impressive 9th in offensive efficiency (alright!), improving from dead last in eFG% and 24th in turnover rate to 18th and 12, respectively.

But perhaps that's come at a tradeoff, as the Bulls once-vaunted defense has dropped from elite to mid-tier (13th). Interestingly they still rank an impressive 4th in eFG% allowed, owing in no small part to their ability to run opponents off the arc. No team allows fewer attempted threes than Chicago, and only one team has surrendered fewer total threes this season. They also avoid fouling, ranking second in free throw rate allowed. That leaves their overall dropoff to two obvious factors: They don't force turnovers (29th after ranking 15th last year) and their defensive rebounding has slipped from above average to below average.

Key Matchup: Pau Gasol vs. THE WORLD

The Bucks had no answer for Pau Gasol (career-high 46 points, 18 rebs) on January 10, as the Bulls' newest all-star bludgeoned Zaza Pachulia, Jared Dudley, Johnny O'Bryant and a foul-prone John Henson in Chicago's 95-87 win. Though they've spent much of the season playing small, the Bucks have generally been able to contain opposing big men with quick doubles from their swarming defense. Alas, it wasn't enough back in January.

Working in the Bucks' favor this time around is additional depth. After riding his smallball starting five to significant success over the past month, Kidd will go bigger tonight with Henson being joined by Ersan Ilyasova in place of Jared Dudley, and he also has Miles Plumlee in addition to Pachulia backing up Henson off the bench.

2014/2015 NBA Season
(31-24, 15-13 road)
(35-21, 16-11 home)
February 23, 2015
United Center | Chicago, IL
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin HD | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Jerryd Bayless PG Derrick Rose
Khris Middleton SG Jimmy Butler
Giannis Antetokounmpo SF Nikola Mirotic
Ersan Ilyasova PF Pau Gasol
John Henson C Joakim Noah
2014/15 Advanced Stats
96.4 (14th) Pace 95.7 (19th)
101.7 (18th) ORtg 105.6 (8th)
99.0 (2nd) DRtg 102.1 (13th)

On the Bulls: Blog A BullBulls By The HornsChicago Tribune