Bulls fall on the road in Milwaukee

The Bulls trailed by one at half, but were outscored by 12 in the second frame of Monday's 111-98 loss to the Bucks.

The Bulls can't seem to Buck some worrisome trends.

Like losing to the best teams. They're now 1-18 against plus-.500 teams with Monday's 111-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Like Lauri Markkanen's mystifying challenges. The talented seven-footer had his second single-digit scoring output in the last five games, with eight points overall and none in the second half on 2-of-11 shooting.

Like being a three-point shooting team that doesn't make many three-point shots. The Bulls shot 29-percent on a whopping 48 attempts, and are still in the bottom half of the league in three-point shooting.

Like becoming the second best team on the West side of Lake Michigan with a 10th consecutive loss to their division foe. Also, a second-straight season of being swept by the league's hottest team, the newly 39-6 Bucks. The Bulls dropped to 16-29.

"I thought it was a hard-fought game," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I thought we competed. In their six losses, teams have shot an average of 40 threes and made 17. At halftime, we were on pace to do that. That was pretty much our game plan. We kept them underneath their free-throw attempts and we kept them underneath their three-point attempts. Those are huge things against this team. I think our game plan was solid. We needed to make a few more of those open shots that we had. Our guys competed, played hard. We kept fighting, kept scrapping. Again, I think if we have a normal shooting night from three, it's a different outcome. But it wasn't. They have a good team, and so do we."

Bulls vs. Bucks game recap

It is good to have a plan; though like it's often said, Custer had one. Like Mike Tyson said—I can't refer to the classics all the time—"everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

That came in the Bulls' scourge, the third quarter, when the superior Bucks opened with a 22-7 spurt that allowed them to begin working on their French for their Friday game against Charlotte in Paris.

For the Bulls, it's still Basketball 101.

"Back to work tomorrow," said Markkanen. "Like I said earlier in the year, I had a long stretch where I didn't make shots. I'm not worried about that."

Most everyone else seems to be worried about Lauri, who did lead the Bulls with eight rebounds. But where's that fading bank shot, the hard drives and dunks that made opponents seek asylum from his reign of terror, that 12-footer nobody could block? Though Markkanen never complains about anyone and always faults himself, it seems evident he's had difficulty adapting to the tenets of the offense that encourages so much perimeter shooting.

That's a Markkanen strength, who boasts a silky smooth shooting stroke that makes you think of maple syrup drenching pancakes. It's just that Markkanen too often seems as flat as a pancake, as I also strain for the appropriate analogy. These losses affect all of us.

"If you shoot the ball like that, you don't deserve touches," Markkanen said. "So I can't really complain. A lot of our plays, I screen and pop. I think I can do a lot of things, not just shoot threes. I haven't really been able to lately, so I've just got to figure out the ways I can attack the rim more."

Zach LaVine led the Bulls again in scoring with 24 points, adding five rebounds, three steals, nine free throw attempts and some thoughts about Markkanen since everyone was asked.

"Keep encouraging, but eventually you just have to break out of it," LaVine said of Markkanen. "You have to take it upon yourself. We're with him. It's tough."

Especially tough was Giannis Antetokounmpo with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, barely missing a quadruple double with eight turnovers. The Bulls do turn you over, and no matter the result they do compete. But not with the requisite talent to match a team like the Bucks, who also got 24 points from Khris Middleton. The Bucks shot 58-percent from the field and 42-percent on threes, though the Bulls did deny the three-point line as Milwaukee was 11-of-26. The Bucks average close to 40 threes per game.

The Bulls had 11 steals and forced 23 turnovers for 24 points. Former Bull Kyle Korver made all five of his field goal attempts for a dozen points and the Bucks dominated the boards as the Bulls opted again for smaller lineups. Thaddeus Young had 14 points on 4-of-8 from three off the bench.

"We played them good in the first half," said LaVine. "They got their run in the third quarter. We closed the gap, but we just couldn't come back from that 10 or 11-point deficit. They have a really really good defensive team. They've got some hound dogs out there on the perimeter and then they send you into their big shot blockers. You've got to make tough shots."

It was Dunn to start for the Bulls, which might have suggested being done until Kris Dunn, with 15 points, filled up just about all the columns in the box score in a wild opening quarter. After missing a pair of threes to start the game, which generally isn't anyone's offensive plan, Dunn dogged the Bucks with seven points, three steals, two rebounds, an assist and a three-pointer. It wasn't quite enough as it was Milwaukee ahead 30-23 after one quarter.

It perhaps was no coincidence the Bulls had their best quarter of the game in Markkanen's best quarter. He scored all eight of his points—that's right, he failed to score in three quarters—and grabbed five rebounds in the second frame. He had a pair of rebound follows for scores and the Bulls were doing everything but wearing 49ers jerseys to taunt the Milwaukee fans. It was 53-52 Bucks at halftime.

"They are the best spurt team in the league," said Boylen. "They are the number one transition team in the league. There are times in the game where it feels like it's slipping away."

Like to start the third quarter when Antetokounmpo and Middleton took over, scoring 12 of the Bucks first 15 points while the Bulls got only a pair of baskets. Young's three became the slice of spam sandwich in the middle of scores by Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Eric Bledsoe. The bill was a 73-59 Bucks lead midway through the third quarter. The Bulls cut it to six briefly as they kept firing threes, and Dunn, Young and Coby White were accurate. The Bucks still led by seven after three frames.

"I thought we got the game under control and did a pretty good job," said Boylen.

The Bucks regained control to open the fourth quarter, quickly kicking up their lead to double-digits which they retained for essentially the rest of the game. And then off they went. As they said in the movie, Paris is a good idea.

Milwaukee? Not such a good idea for the Bulls these days. Or much of the NBA, actually.