This late in the season every night seems to swing the mindset between "OK, the Bucks are fine, they've got a four-game lead on the 9th seed" and "Oh no, the Bucks are in trouble, they've only got a three-game lead on the 9th seed!"
Milwaukee hasn't exactly been helping itself lately. The Bucks are just 2-8 in their last 10 games and now face a team they haven't beaten all season. The Chicago Bulls have won three straight and five of six as they battle the Toronto Raptors for the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They're playing well even without star PG Derrick Rose, and the rumors are starting to circulate that Rose's return could come soon.
Both teams should be plenty motivated when they meet on the BMO Harris Bradley Center floor tonight. For the Bulls, a victory would mean a season sweep of the series and a stronger hold on the #3 seed in the East, which would steer them toward a first-round matchup with the Bucks. For Milwaukee, pride might be the most valuable thing on the line, but with teams like Brooklyn and Boston playing .500-plus ball of late, Jason Kidd's club can ill-afford to lose sight of the competition in the rear view mirror.
Outside of the game itself, we should also get some resolution to the new color-logo-jersey speculation of the past couple weeks. Will it be orange? Will it be an April Fool's joke? We won't ruin the punchline, but be sure to tune it at halftime.
Chicago rides into Milwaukee having won three in a row, leaving them 2.5 games behind the second seeded Cavs and a game up on fourth seeded Toronto for the #3 spot with eight games to play. In other words, unless you're hoping to see the Bradley Center flooded by Bulls jerseys in a couple weeks, you should probably make the Raptors your second-favorite team for the moment.
With Rose out and Jimmy Butler only recently returning from an elbow injury, 24-year-old rookie big man Nikola Mirotic has helped fill the offensive void with 20.8 ppg and 7.6 rpg in just under 31 mpg in March. Though his raw shooting splits are unremarkable (41.3% overall and 31.2% from deep), Mirotic's combination of size and outside-in skill makes him a matchup nightmare, and his penchant for threes and free throws also makes him surprisingly efficient in aggregate (56% true shooting). Aaron Brooks also hasn't been a slouch filling in for Rose, averaging 15.5 ppg and 4.7 apg in March.
Milwaukee has averaged just under 82 points per game in three losses to the Bulls so far this season, though Chicago's normally stout defense hasn't been as steady overall this season. They were a ho-hum 16th in defensive efficiency in March, maintaining the strange overall trend of being a more efficient offensively (10th) than defensively (12th).
As is typical for the Bulls under head coach Tom Thibodeau, Chicago excels at the fundamental elements of defense. They're in the NBA's top 5 in both defensive eFG% and defensive free-throw rate. They rely on defending every possession and every shot with tenacity, because they're dead last in forcing opponent turnovers and about average in defensive rebounding.
On offense, Chicago crashes the offensive glass for extra possessions and draws a lot of fouls, but they don't shoot the ball particularly well, especially inside the arc (22nd in team 2PT%).
Rose told reporters today that his injured knee responded well to two days of scrimmages, but he won't play against the Bucks and has remained non-committal on a return date to the Bulls' lineup. Still, even if the Bucks don't see him tonight there's still a good chance they'll have to face him in the playoffs, with the third-seeded Bulls and sixth-seeded Bucks currently on track to be opponents in the first round.
Rose wouldn't commit to return but said he's pleased with how his body reacted to contact. Said he's only missing his wind, conditioning.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 1, 2015
Nothing Rose said today or any other day has changed internal belief he will return in regular season. Rehab smooth. Scrimmages went well.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 1, 2015
Other than Rose, Doug McDermott (back) is also out while Jimmy Butler (elbow) and Taj Gibson (ankle) are listed as probable.
For the Bucks, Jared Dudley previously tweeted that he would be "100%" for tonight's game after staying home from the Atlanta trip. so the Bucks expect to be at full strength other than the long-term injuries to Jabari Parker and Damien Inglis.
|2014/2015 NBA Season|
|April 1, 2015|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Aaron Brooks|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Jimmy Butler|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Mike Dunleavy|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||Pau Gasol|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Joakim Noah|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|93.8 (16th)||Pace||92.8 (23rd)|
|102.7 (26th)||ORtg||107.8 (10th)|
|102.7 (4th)||DRtg||104.9 (13th)|