Still kind of hard to believe we've reached this point, isn't it? Who among us expected to be watching the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs a year after their worst season in franchise history? With all the other concerns weighing on our minds (fans and the organization alike know that this is still a team with its eyes on the future), it almost doesn't seem real.
But it is.
It's very real, and if the Bucks want to avoid an embarrassing playoff burnout like the one suffered against the Miami Heat two years ago, they'll need to buckle down fast. Because their opponent has been here before, and they're far more dangerous than they look. Their star is back, they're more balanced than ever, and they always seem to have the Bucks' number. The Chicago Bulls are the closest thing the Bucks have to a hated rival, and now they're meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 1990. That series, played before the NBA moved to a best-of-7 series for first-round matchups, ended with a 3-1 Chicago series victory. Milwaukee has its work cut out for it if it wants more than four games this time around.
Chicago has been banged up for much of the season, with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson all battling ailments ranging from nagging to serious all season (see next section). Still, the arrival of Pau Gasol has added scoring punch up front (see his 46-point outburst vs. the Bucks earlier this season), Butler has blossomed into a two-way star, and stretch big Nikola Mirotic has been among the league's best rookies (even if he barely averaged 20 mpg for the season). The Bulls aren't quite the defensive juggernaut they once were, but they're above average on both ends (11th offensively and defensively).
For Bulls fans this might seem a little familiar. Via Alex Sonty at Blog a Bull:
This all seems like a poor man's version of the Bulls' 2011 first-round series against the Pacers. A team without a star coached by a young, inexperienced bulldog; best player is a budding two-way star; the defense will gang up on the strong side and ram a boot in your throat; divisional series hours away from home.
This Bulls team isn't what that team was, and this Bucks team doesn't have the size that Pacers team had, but the frustration potential is there: if this easily winnable series last six or seven games, instead of four or five.
Chicago's roster is afflicted with a long list of ailments, but only Kirk Hinrich is out for tonight's game. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson are all expected to play their normal minute load, assuming they look OK once the game gets going.
For the Bucks, Jared Dudley and Jerryd Bayless both practiced with the team and are ready to go. Dudley sat out the Bucks' last two games to rest his ailing back. Jabari Parker (ACL surgery) and Damien Inglis (foot) are out as usual.
|2014/2015 NBA Season|
|April 18, 2015|
|United Center | Chicago, IL|
|ESPN | Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Derrick Rose|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Jimmy Butler|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Mike Dunleavy|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||Pau Gasol|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Joakim Noah|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|96.5 (12th)||Pace||95.3 (21st)|
|100.5 (25th)||ORtg||104.7 (10th)|
|99.3 (29th)||DRtg||101.5 (20th)