In the blink of an eye, the end of the NBA regular season is upon us. After a whirlwind of a schedule, the Milwaukee Bucks close out their campaign against the neighboring Chicago Bulls, in the last game that doesn’t affect the future of the franchise. No pressure!
Where We’re At
Like it or hate it, the Bucks have prioritized one thing over all things this season: prepare for the playoffs, even at the expense of regular season success. They will end the 2020-21 NBA season with less-impressive results than the last two years, but all eyes have remained on the prize, and there are numerous signs that demonstrate that commitment. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s evolution as a facilitator on offense, finding counters to the dreaded “wall” defense. Khris Middleton’s development as a finisher, in addition to his midrange and three-point shooting. Jrue Holiday’s ability to be Jrue Holiday. The mid-season trade for PJ Tucker. An investment in offensive productivity to avoid postseason stagnation, in the form of Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis. An emphasis on switching on defense, which the Bucks still haven’t mastered 100% of the time but is no longer an on-paper exercise.
We’re nearly there. Regardless of who the opponent(s) will be, the Bucks have done everything in their power to prepare for this moment. They’re healthy, they’re effective, and the failures of yesteryear are ready to be exorcised. Let’s go.
On the other side of the court, the Chicago Bulls are simply playing out the schedule before they can regroup once again for another offseason. A late surge wasn’t enough as Chicago was eliminated from Play-In contention, and tonight’s game represents the final chapter of a disappointing book. There is room for optimism in Chicago, as Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic both offer a ton of offensive talent to build around, but the world will have to wait for the fruits of that particular labor. Their only effort tonight might be to play the Bucks’ spoiler, as a Bulls win would lock Milwaukee into the 3rd seed (where they’ll likely stay; the only path to moving up to second is a win tonight and a Brooklyn loss to Cleveland) and, depending on how you feel about divisions, a Bucks win would result in the first occurrence of a team running the table against all Divisional opponents in a single season. How that hasn’t happened before is beyond me, but Jim Paschke said it last night in his final regular season home broadcast (congratulations, Jim!) so it must be true!
Player To Watch
When you have big playoff plans, you want your guys to be in good shape. Khris Middleton has shaken off his late-season slump, Giannis seems beyond the knee and ankle issues that hobbled him previously, but few have been on such a hot streak as Bryn Forbes is on right now. The sharpshooter might play without facial expressions, but over his last 10 games he is melting faces left and right by averaging 54.7% shooting on 5.3 threes per game. His defensive limitations are well-known, but every time the Bucks put up 120 points, it seems like Forbes has been contributing with his long-range accuracy. This is a trend we want to see continue in the playoffs, so let’s keep an eye on tonight.
Game 72: Against Chicago, the Bucks will...
This poll is closed
Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)