Bulls outmatched in Milwaukee, fall to 2-4

The Bucks shot hit 22 three-pointers on 45 attempts as they gave the Bulls a 126-96 defeat in Milwaukee. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 16 points.

It's difficult to play the defending two-time MVP in the third game in four nights as the Bulls painfully learned Friday in Milwaukee in a 126-96 defeat.

It's also difficult without four regulars in Covid protocol with Chandler Hutchison testing positive for the virus.

It's even more difficult when there was a mouse in the locker room and he apparently ate the game plan and the Bulls appeared confused on the way to 21 turnovers for 24 Bucks points.

It's difficult facing the league wins leader the last two seasons in the second of a back to back set with the Bucks resting and anxious to get at someone after an embarrassing loss in Miami not long after a more embarrassing one in New York.

It's also difficult to play your best basketball when the advance scouting report said the Bucks were adept at Quidditch and might using flying broomsticks. And then there was the jet lag flying to Milwaukee, the dizziness because so many guys apparently had taken literally the coach's talk about this season being like a roller coaster ride and becoming dizzy, and did anyone mention it was the third game in four nights? Well, it was.

Wendell Carter Jr. finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block in the loss.

"There are a lot of factors," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan about the loss, perhaps not so much unexpected in the result but disappointing in the method. "There's the four guys being out, there's a back to back, it's having a Covid test (every morning), not really knowing, having to prepare…I just think that's kind of the world we're living in right now and for me I've just tried to.. I'm sure it was a factor. But those things are what they are and every team in the league is dealing with back to backs and every team is going to have to deal with the things we dealt with.

"So I'm trying to look at, ‘OK, here's a group of guys who went out there and played today whether you want to say we were undermanned or not, we can still do things at a very high level. And I would say to these guys we need to do things at a championship level. That to me tonight was not at a championship level."

Not on the Bulls side of the court, anyway, as the Bucks dominated from the start on the way to a paralyzing 22 of 45 three pointers (six of 26 for the Bulls), leading 21-8 in the opening minutes of the game and never seriously being challenged by the Bulls. The Bucks led by 22 points at halftime and 31 late in the third quarter before Donovan gave Devon Dotson, Adam Mokoka, Cristiano Felicio and Luke Kornet their first minutes this season. The Bucks were not deterred.

Coby White had 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists but had an off shooting night, going 4-for-13 from the field.

"Came out flat. Really no excuse," said Coby White with 12 points, three assists and four turnovers. "Gotta play better at the end of the day. Shots that usually fall weren't falling, so just gotta come out ready to play. I feel as a team we kind of got away from our identity tonight, but they're a helluva team defensively. Our identity is moving the ball, making the extra pass, getting energy with the ball on the offensive end, and we kind of didn't stick to our identity. They're tough defensively, but it's no excuse, three games in four nights, whatever, no excuse, we're professionals."

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 16 points, but he and White combined to shoot two of nine on threes and had more turnovers than assists. So did the Bulls team with just 18 assists after nearly double that in a masterpiece effort in Washington New Year's Eve. It wasn't such happy new year. It was the Bulls 11th consecutive loss to the Bucks.

The Bucks striving for at least the NBA Finals this season also aren't the playoff hopeful Wizards, and the effect that doomed the Bulls in atrocious opening week losses was evident again with the Bucks active defense and pressure. Pressure has been bursting the Bulls' bubble, and did so again. Unlike the Wizards who play a loose switching defense, the Bucks play a sticky man to man defense, fighting over screens and chasing relentlessly with long armed defenders like MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

He led seven Bucks in double figures scoring with 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, though his flaws and the Bucks were on display as Antetokounmpo clanked eight of 18 free throws. Those threes don't go in so easily against greater pressure. The Bulls, especially in this segment of the schedule with the personnel absences, were hardly up to the task.

"The problem for us was the offense," said Donovan. "We played against a very, very good defensive team and we didn't have any level of stamina or endurance to constantly cut and move and screen. And I thought their physicality knocked us off cuts. We needed to play through the physicality instead of playing away from it and I think we got careless with the ball and they made it hard. We've gotta be willing to really put in the effort and the energy to run around and create shots through screening and movement for each other and I thought we got very stagnant. I thought we got very one-dimensional.

"We played an incredible player and ball movement game last game against Washington," Donovan agreed. "We did not have that today. We're gonna have to fight through some of the physicality moreso than we did today. I thought that was a part where we maybe took a step back in that area."

It's difficult to fault the Bulls too much considering the opponent and the incidental factors. It's true all teams will face these Covid issues, though the perfect storm confluence of missing players, heavy schedule and elite opponent was too much for a Bulls team talking about perhaps making the playoffs or the play-in games.

The Bulls truly were exceptional in Washington with their unselfish play and competitive spirit. Not so much in Milwaukee. The bench was outscored by 13 as former Bull Bobby Portis had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Though the Bulls did shut down D.J. Augustin. Bryn Forbes had 18 points and four threes off the bench. Denzel Valentine came in for 14 points, but Otto Porter Jr. after big games in Washington was passive with nine points and rookie Patrick Williams was overwhelmed trying to defend Antetokounmpo.

"I want to be the guy that guards the best players night in and night out," said Williams, who had eight points. "I think tonight was definitely a step forward for me getting more comfortable guarding guys like that. It's not easy at all, but you got to find a way to do it. Today was just a learning experience. There's nothing like actually being out there with him, just taking those blows from him. My chest is on fire right now just from the shoulders that he gave me and things like that."

Zach LaVine led Chicago with 16 points on 7-for-16 shooting in the loss.

The Bulls were getting burned all game as the Bucks were the ones working the ball around, 27 assists in finding the long distance shooters, nine Bucks making three pointers as the Bucks went to 3-3. The Bulls are 2-4 and host the Dallas Mavericks Sunday before four games over the next week in California and Oregon.

It's unclear how many among the missing of Hutchison, Ryan Arcidiacono, Lauri Markkanen and Tomas Satoransky will be available. When Satoransky went through the contact tracing without any symptoms or positive tests he was held out 10 days. Hutchison figures to be away at least that long.

A team like the Bucks also exposes the Bulls lack of a primary ball handler. Satoransky's absence compounds that. White after a career high 10 assists against the more relaxed Wizards committed four turnovers and LaVine five. The Bulls tended to rush shots—apparently for fear of losing the ball—rather than seeking out the even better shot like they did in Washington. Milwaukee pressure in the lanes and against ballhanders, even veterans like Thad Young, was at least disagreeable.

"The biggest thing for us is just execution," said Young, who also took turns on Antetokounmpo. "We all have to do better with what we're doing out there, specifically me. I had a whole bunch of turnovers today (four), which is not typical of me. But it happens. It's definitely a game that's a test for us and it shows that we played a very, very good team, a playoff team, a championship contending team. And this is the team we strive to be like. We want to be able to come out and execute."

Like the old coach said when asked about his team's execution, yes he was for it.

The Bulls trailed 27-21 after the first quarter in erasing that quick 13-point deficit. Then the Bucks were ahead by 14 points four minutes into the second quarter, 22 at halftime and 21 after three after the last Bulls run, 13-3 to end the third after a 93-62 deficit. Perhaps it could have been more competitive. And then hello, Devon Dotson.

It's been a tough week all around. Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island died, which again made me wonder if the professor was able to make that radio from a coconut, how come he couldn't fix the hole in the boat? Anyway, Professor Donovan still has some holes to work on as well. If at first you don't succeed….skydiving isn't for you. C'mon, you needed a laugh after this one, right? A smile?