After a five-game homestand, the Milwaukee Bucks -- and the Giannis Antetokounmpo triple-double watch -- won't have to go far for their first road game since February 25.
The Bucks make the short trip down I-94 to Chicago on Monday hoping to play spoilers against the Bulls (31-30), who enter the night clinging to the eight seed by the slimmest of margins over the Pistons (32-31). There's no such pressure on the Bucks, who have yet to make up any substantive ground in the Eastern playoff race despite some improved (and infinitely more enjoyable) play over the past few weeks.
Jabari Parker marked game 82 of his NBA career on Sunday with 26 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in the Bucks' 104-96 loss to the Thunder, and he returns home to Chicago hoping to make the start of "year two" as impressive as the end of year one. Since the break he's averaging 21.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists on 51.9% shooting, damn impressive stuff for a guy just 14 months removed from surgery on a torn ACL.
Of course, the crazy thing for the Bucks is that Jabari isn't even the biggest story in Milwaukee right now -- that would have to be the stat-stuffing absurdity of Point Giannis, who's posted 19.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists while racking up three triple-doubles since the all-star break. He's hardly without his rough edges as a point forward -- there's still plenty of over-dribbling and bricked long twos -- but if this is what Giannis looks like before he knows how to run an NBA offense...well, what's he going to do when he actually does?
Speaking of point guards, the arrival of Giannis has not surprisingly coincided with the marginalization of Michael Carter-Williams, who earlier today was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a torn labrum in his hip. It's a disappointing end to a mostly disappointing first full season in Milwaukee for MCW, whose future in Milwaukee remains cloudy at best. As for the here and now, not much changes for the Bucks, who had gotten used to playing without MCW over the past four games and figure to lean more heavily on O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless and even Tyler Ennis for the next month.
Jimmy Butler's return from an 11-game absence helped Chicago snap a four-game losing streak on Saturday night against the Rockets, though late word out of Chicago is that he'll be back in street clothes tonight due to swelling in his sore knee. That pushes three-point specialist E'Twaun Moore (43.8%) back into the starting five, with Fred Hoiberg telling the media pregame that Moore will primarily defend Khris Middleton while Mike Dunleavy will be tasked with containing Antetokounmpo -- their first starting encounter since Giannis earned an ejection for burying Dunleavy after a couple cheap shots in game six of the teams' playoff series last spring.
The good news for Chicago is the recent resurgence of Derrick Rose, who's posted 21.3 ppg and 5.3 apg on 56.2% shooting since the all-star break. There's no shortage of talent in Chicago, but they've been dinged up of late: aside from Butler, Rose has missed time recently, Joakim Noah is out for the season, Nikola Mirotic has struggled since an appendectomy. So there's no telling what to expect from the Bulls, whose biggest struggles under Hoiberg have surprisingly come on the offensive end, where they rank just behind the Bucks in overall efficiency (24th). Weirdly they've been just as good defensively under Hoiberg as Tom Thibodeau a year ago, but they've gone from an above-average offense under Thibs to a very poor one under the supposedly offensive-minded Hoiberg.
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|March 7, 2016|
|United Center | Chicago|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|O.J. Mayo||PG||Derrick Rose|
|Khris Middleton||SG||E'Twaun Moore|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Mike Dunleavy|
|Jabari Parker||PF||Taj Gibson|
|Miles Plumlee||C||Pau Gasol|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|94.5 (23rd)||Pace||96.5 (12th)|
|104.2 (23rd)||ORtg||103.7 (24th)|
|108.4 (23rd)||DRtg||104.8 (11th)|