Sure, the Bucks are funding this playoff berth with house money after last year's Hindenburg re-enactment, and they made a move at the trade deadline that likely made this year's team demonstrably worse at the expense of long-term flexibility. But the playoffs tend to be more fun when your team wins, and most everyone agreed that the Toronto Raptors provided better opportunities for the Bucks to put together some playoff wins, and possibly a series win. The Chicago Bulls -- with a dynamic-when-healthy backcourt, imposing frontcourt and stifling defense -- don't.
The cherry on top of this sundae Bucks fans didn't want is how games three, four and six (if necessary) will look at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Since the Bulls' resurgence a few years back, the two seasonal matchups in Milwaukee have seen the BC's grayish green seats filled with red, white and black.
The mass trek up I-94 creates an entertaining, and sometimes contentious, environment at the usually comfortable BC. Some Bucks fans go as far as pawning tickets off on others to avoid the split dynamic in the crowd. Now, if you want to see the return of playoff basketball in person, you may have to sit next to some loud folks who won't be agreeing with your preferences over a three hour span.
Still, I commend the Milwaukee Bucks for not resorting to ludicrous rules and prohibitions in a vain attempt to keep Illinoisans from making the journey to the Crescent City. As a Chicago Blackhawks fan, I get a front-row seat to idiocy like this from the Nashville Predators, who have gone to great lengths to keep Chicagoans out of Bridgestone Arena during their first round playoff series. Heck, the Bucks' neighbors a couple miles west tried similar tactics a few years ago. It's foolish, little brother tactics like these that cause the rest of the sport to laugh. With the exception of one ticket deal, the Bucks have not done anything like banning Illinois credit cards or threatening to void any tickets purchased on secondary markets. That ticket deal, tickets to Games 3 and 4 as well as the regular season finale this past Wednesday, was available to anyone and everyone. Though it's likely the Bucks could have sold out playoff games regardless of opponent, preventing willing customers from spending money at your business is bad business. The Milwaukee Bucks are running a smart business.
Bulls fans will be in town next week, and that's fine. In fact, an opportunity presents itself over the next week and change for these two clubs. These two teams, despite being division foes and lakeshore neighbors, have never developed a true rivalry. The NBA has this problem in general, thanks in large part to the irrelevancy of divisions.
But the underlying factor as to why Bulls-Bucks hasn't created more than a simmer? Neither team has ever been really good at the same time. This will only be the fourth time the Bulls and Bucks will collide in the postseason, and the first time in 25 years. With how easy it is to make the postseason in today's Eastern Conference, that's almost incomprehensible.
The Bulls' dynasty in the 90's coincided with a black hole of Bucks basketball; the Bucks made the playoffs just once in during the Bulls' run of six titles in eight years (1991). The Bucks' bounce-back leading to the 2001 run to the Conference Finals saw the Bulls fall into the Dark Ages, missing the postseason for six straight years. Heck, forget playoff meetings, these two franchises have been in the playoffs with each other a total of three times since Chicago's 1991 title, with Saturday marking the fourth. Even William Shakespeare thinks these star-crossed lovers are overdoing this a bit.
Now they finally meet in the playoffs for the first time in a generation. It's a first-round series, one the Bulls see as the first step in their sprint towards a championship window about to slam shut, and one the Bucks see as the first step in a newly-confident walk towards opening one. The 2015 playoffs certainly mean more to the current Bulls than the current Bucks. But if these two can put together an entertaining, lengthy series... a rivalry may finally start emerging.
After forty years of near misses, that isn't too much to ask, is it?
(Note: Here's the super-sized Bucks vs. Bulls preview podcast Steve and Frank recorded if you want even more coverage of the series)