Giannis Antetokounmpo's fifth triple-double of the season helped the Bucks claim a narrow (albeit meaningless) win on Friday. Jimmy Butler's first wasn't enough for the Bulls in a crucial home matchup with the Pistons on Saturday.
All of which sort of summarizes the weird, fractured state of the I-94 rivalry right now. Though the disappointing Bucks aren't going anywhere this season, they've at least had the development of Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton to provide a dose of long-term optimism down the stretch -- even if every win simply worsens their lottery chances. Meanwhile, the Bulls (38-38) are still fighting for their postseason lives against the Pistons (40-36) and Pacers (41-36), but it's not clear that there's anything they can do to salvage a season that already feels lost.
The Bucks improved to 23-15 at the Bradley Center on Friday, matching last season's home win total with three more games to go. But far more important than winning was how they did it. Once again it was Giannis (18 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks, two steals) and Jabari Parker (26 points on 14 shots, seven rebounds, five assists and the go-ahead bucket late) carrying the load for Jason Kidd's club, exploiting the game's up-and-down pace for a number of highlight reel finishes. Antetokounmpo also assisted half of Parker's 12 field goals -- a couple of them in spectacular fashion -- reiterating the growing chemistry between the Bucks' 21-year-old stars.
Jabari Parker on Giannis: "It's very important that we play off each other because we're going to hopefully be here for a long time."â Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) April 2, 2016
With Jerryd Bayless (knee) out, 19-year-old Rashad Vaughn also started his first career game, though it was 21-year-old Tyler Ennis (himself battling a sore shoulder) capping a career-best 15 point night with a pair of clutch free throws in the final five seconds. Ennis has upped his game considerably in recent weeks, so don't be surprised if he ends up starting at some point in the final six games -- perhaps even tonight.
On the injury front, Bayless remains doubtful for tonight with his knee injury, which should clear the way for Ennis, Vaughn and Greivis Vasquez to once again see the vast majority of non-Middleton minutes in the backcourt. And hey, maybe we'll see Vasquez make a shot? He's 0-for-7 from the field in 25 minutes since returning from ankle surgery, though by now we're used to General Greivis misfiring: he's down to just 32.8% shooting on the season and previously had games of 0-for-8 and 0-for-10.
The downside of the Bucks' win over the Magic was its impact on the lottery standings, as it drew Milwaukee and Orlando into a tie for the 10th/11th slots at 32-44 -- with one final matchup between the teams in Orlando looming large next week. The Nuggets (32-46), Knicks (31-46) and Kings (31-46) aren't far ahead of them in the 7-8-9 spots, which should set up an interesting final 10 days. Working in the Bucks' favor: neither the Nuggets nor Knicks are keeping their own lottery picks -- the Knicks' is going to Denver and the Nuggets' is headed to Toronto -- so those teams at least don't have an incentive to tank the final six games.
Missing Derrick Rose (elbow) and Taj Gibson (rib contusion), the Bulls blew a chance to draw even with Detroit on Saturday night, wasting Butler's monster night in a 94-90 home loss that also assured Detroit the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two teams. Both Rose and Gibson are question marks again tonight.
Saturday's loss is just the latest turn in an exhausting season for the Bulls and their fans, who only days earlier had claimed a huge but apparently joyless win over a Pacer team they're still chasing for a playoff spot. Via our friends at BlogaBull:
Somehow the Bulls still won, but it was more an epic choke by the Pacers (who really needed this game), as the Bulls themselves had a dismal 4th quarter scoring drought and didn't look much better than they had been in their 4-game losing streak. Maybe Fred Hoiberg had a big speech that caused the Pacers to miss every wide-open three pointer.
I don't blame the players, here. I think as fans we're all checked out too. If they manage to defy the odds and sneak into the 8th spot it'll be more annoying than anything.
Butler has cemented his star status this season despite a knee injury that may require offseason surgery, though rumors of discontent between the former Marquette star and coach Fred Hoiberg continue to fester. What that means for the Bulls' future is unclear: Rose will become an expiring contract this summer, the injured Joakim Noah seems likely to depart in free agency after previously being demoted to a bench role by Hoiberg, and Pau Gasol's future is also in doubt given he'll be a 35-year free agent this summer. They still have a number of useful young assets including Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Bobby Portis, though for now none of them appear to be more than complementary pieces.
Keeping Butler certainly isn't a bad option considering he's a 26-year-old all-star on a reasonable long-term deal, though his value as a trade asset will also never be higher. So if the Bulls really want to start over, they can expect teams like the Lakers and Celtics to dangle potential top-five picks and a cache of other assets for Butler, who was previously targeted by both teams and will have no shortage of suitors if he's made available. That could be a more palatable route than trying to salvage the current version of the Bulls, who began the season hoping to threaten Cleveland's throne in the East but have instead seen their postseason chances fade thanks to major slippage on both sides of the ball.
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|April 3, 2016|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Chicago|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Rashad Vaughn||PG||Derrick Rose (Q)|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Jimmy Butler|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Mike Dunleavy|
|Jabari Parker||PF||Bobby Portis|
|Greg Monroe||C||Pau Gasol|
|2015/16 Advanced Stats|
|94.5 (23rd)||Pace||96.1 (12th)|
|104.6 (24th)||ORtg||104.3 (25th)|
|108.6 (23rd)||DRtg||105.9 (15th)|