This evening the Chicago Bulls have bussed up I-94 North, crossing over the Wisconsin border, to take on their longtime Central Division rival Milwaukee Bucks in the first of four on the docket this season. The two will hook up for a second time Monday night at the United Center.
Fresh off what many are proclaiming the "Coby White Game" the Bulls and their high-powered rookie face a tough test this evening against their neighbors to the north. White, the seventh overall pick out of North Carolina in last June's NBA Draft, rewrote the franchise record book Tuesday against New York by knocking down seven three-pointers in the fourth quarter to lead Chicago to a 120-102 victory.
The 19-year-old prodigy entered the final stanza with just four points in his pocket before putting on a dazzling show down the stretch to finish with a game-high 27. Bulls guard Zach LaVine had another impressive night of his own with 25 points while second-year center Wendell Carter Jr. cleaned up down low, posting his seventh double/double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Chicago's test tonight is going to be a tough one as the Bucks come in leading the Central at 7-3 after winning five of their last six games. However, Milwaukee will need to figure out a way to overcome the loss of All-Star forward Khris Middleton who recently suffered a painful quad injury that's going to keep him sidelined for the next three to four weeks. The 6'7" veteran is the team's second-leading scorer at 18.5 points per game.
However, one special player who'll certainly be ready to defend Milwaukee's home court is reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who enters averaging 29.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists.
Antetokounmpo has recorded double/doubles in all 10 games the Bucks have played this season and has scored 30 or more points six times, including in each of Milwaukee's last five.
Veterans Eric Bledsoe (16.3), center Brook Lopez (10.3) and backup guard George Hill (10.1) are also averaging double digits.
Milwaukee loves to fire away from downtown, averaging 42 attempts from behind the 3-point arc per game, second only to the Houston Rockets who bombarded the Bulls this past Saturday with a 19-for-44 (43.2%).
The Bucks take the floor leading the NBA in scoring and rebounding at a whopping 119.9 points, and 51.7 boards per game, respectively.
With regards to tonight's contest, Chicago once again will need to stay in the moment for all 48 minutes. So far this season the Bulls have been able to discover a comfortable offensive groove early on, oftentimes jumping to double-digit leads, only lose their way and fade down the stretch. If they're going notch an upset on the road tonight, the Bulls must get locked in from the jump and stay poised through the final buzzer.
Collectively, Chicago needs to be aggressive at both ends of the floor and force the Bucks to work for everything they get. Bulls guards Tomas Satoransky and LaVine need to ignite the offense by relentlessly attacking the rim and moving the ball up the floor at a fast pace at every opportunity. Both Carter Jr., and Lauri Markkanen will also need to crash the boards at both ends in order to try to slow Milwaukee's plan to turn tonight into a one-sided track meet.
Defensively the Bulls need to keep trusting one another, and never fail to rotate and/or jump out to guard an open sniper on the arc. Chicago's will have to pressure the ball all over the court and deny Milwaukee opportunities to post easy put-backs or run-out layups.
Offensively, the Bulls have proven to be successful when they stampede out of the gates early and establish and stick to a fast pace. They must generously share the ball with each other, making sure everyone is involved in the action. To produce scoring opportunities, the Bulls need to constantly be on the attack, cutting through the paint and making the extra pass to unearth open looks at the hoop. They also must consistently make their way to the free throw line and finish the job by converting from the stripe.
Without a doubt Milwaukee is one of the NBA's elite, with many expecting them to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals next summer. Tonight's task is challenging, especially with starting small forward Otto Porter Jr., expected to miss his third straight game with a sprained left foot. Zach LaVine is also nursing a turned ankle suffered the other night against the Knicks, but nonetheless he's expected to play.
In any event it's going to take a total team effort to beat Milwaukee, thus positive contributions off the bench, primarily from Coby White, Kris Dunn, Thaddeus Young and Porter's primary backup, Chandler Hutchison, will have to happen to give the Bulls a legitimate shot of being the last team standing.