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Bucks vs. Bulls Preview: I-94 Rivalry renews as Chicago comes to town

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A struggling Milwaukee squad hopes to snap their three-game losing streak with a win against the Bulls

NBA: Preseason-Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a dismal loss against the Toronto Raptors, 122-100 that saw their opponent three-point percentage get shredded to the tune of 56% shooting, Milwaukee hopes to get back on track with a series of home-and-home games against Chicago the next two nights. The Bulls are coming off a close defeat against former coach Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, 99-94, that included an anemic second half offensively.

Bucks Update

Milwaukee has fallen on hard times of late. After reaching 11-9 with a win over the Blazers last week, they’ve dropped three straight against Atlanta, Washington and Toronto. The drumming by Toronto hurts less knowing they’re one of the East’s elite teams, but the Hawks and Wizards ones do knowing they’ll likely factor into the amorphous blob of average teams jockeying for the East’s last playoff spots.

Giannis and Jabari’s performances softened the Toronto loss a bit. After a quite six-point first half, Giannis broke out to end with 30 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and zero turnovers. Jabari maintained a consistent scoring effort all night, finishing with 27 points on 11-17 shooting. Their dominance helped the Bucks crack into the lead in the third quarter, but Toronto stuck several more three-pointers to put them away in the fourth.

Chicago’s been a notoriously difficult opponent for Giannis so far in his career, but his string of grandiose performances against big competition (Paul George, Lebron, DeRozan, et al.) makes that scenario seem less likely tonight. Frank and Eric discussed that topic and oh so much more on today’s Locked on Bucks:

Milwaukee also had its worst 3-point shooting performance of the year against Toronto by going 4-24 (16.7%), so they have to be hoping that ticks back up to average for tonight’s matchup. Almost everyone else, sans Greg Monroe, was a non-factor against the Raptors, so the Bucks will need guys like Tony Snell, Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon to step up defensively against Chicago. Snell, who I presume will guard Dwayne Wade, will get a good test of his defensive mettle tonight in trying to contain Wade and watch him off-ball. This is also Milwaukee’s first game on true national TV with the broadcast airing on TNT.

Finally, some injury news! Michael Beasley is doubtful tonight with a left mid-foot sprain. Giannis is also listed as probable with a right ankle sprain, but he’s still expected to suit up.

Bulls Update

After an offseason of sincere doubts over how their terribly named “Three Alphas” squad of Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo would fit together, the early results have remained fairly positive for Chicago. Despite the narrow loss to the Timberwolves where they mustered only 38 points in the second half after a 38-point first quarter, their offense has remained respectable.

They’re sporting the 12th most efficient offense in the league, and after some early season hubbub about their three-point shooting, they’ve cratered back to earth with the worst three-point percentage in the league at 30.7%. Smartly, Fred Hoiberg has had the squad cut back on their attempts, and they’ve averaging the least amount of three-point attempts in the league now at 19.5.

Really, their success drills down to the continuing old-age dynamism of Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler’s impressive start. Both Butler (27.3) and Wade (28.3) are leading the team in usage rate without sacrificing their offensive efficiency. Butler’s 60.4 true shooting percentage is buoyed by his slightly improved start from three and averaging nearly 10 free throws a game. Dwayne Wade is maintaining a 53% true shooting and shooting the most three-point attempts (3.2) since his 2009-10 season. Alongside those guys, Taj Gibson remains an underappreciated glue guy with the second best net rating (4.9) among usual rotation players for the Bulls. Robin Lopez (4.7) is right up there too with the fourth-best net rating.

The team’s point guards are really their weakest links. Rajon Rondo is putting up his usual bevy of assists with seven per game this year, but he continues to shoot horribly, with a 43.7 TS%. His backup, Jerian Grant, is even worse with a 41.7 TS%.

The Bulls remain without ex-Buck Michael Carter-Williams, who appeared in only three games before injuring his left wrist and left knee. Rajon Rondo is also questionable with a right ankle sprain and didn’t play against Minnesota.

On the Bulls: Blog a Bull