Keys to the Game: Bulls at Bucks (12.15.16)

Tonight the Bulls (13-11) head north up I-94 to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks (11-12) at the BMO Bradley Center. This will be the first of four Bulls/Bucks get-togethers on the season, and also the first of a back-to-back, home-and-home set as the two longtime rivals will hit the road after tonight’s clash and meet again tomorrow at the United Center.

Tonight’s matchup pits two hungry crews looking to jump back in the win column as the Bucks have dropped four of their last five games, while the Bulls return to the hardwood in search of redemption after squandering a 21-point lead and falling 99-94 to Minnesota Tuesday at the UC. Chicago All-Stars Jimmy Butler finished with 27 points and nine rebounds while Dwyane Wade dished out eight assists to go along with 12 points, five rebounds and two steals against the T-Wolves.

Butler and Wade, both of whom played collegiately in Milwaukee at Marquette, have been on fire of late. Over his last eight games, Butler is putting up 25.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists, while Wade, over his last five contests is posting 22.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds.

All-purpose Bucks superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YAHN-iss ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh), aka The Greek Freak, is equally sizzling of late as he just notched his fourth 30+ point game of the season at Toronto this past Monday, finishing with 30 points, eight boards, five assists and three steals. Antetokounmpo is averaging career-highs in points (22.3), rebounds (8.9), assists (5.9), blocks (2.0) and steals (2.0) this season. He is the only player in the league averaging over 20.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals a night.

Another Milwaukee star the Bulls will need to contest with this evening, as well as tomorrow night, is Windy City native Jabari Parker, a 6’8” 3rd-year forward from Duke. Parker is averaging 21.3 points on 50.4 percent shooting from the field in December. He has posted 20+ points five times this month, including three 27-point scoring outings.

An important facet of tonight’s game will be a battle for control of the paint. Milwaukee comes in averaging 49.4 points scored in the paint this season, which ranks second in the league. The Bulls, on the other hand, are second in overall rebounding (48.3) and first in offensive boards (13.4) and first in second-chance scoring (16.0).  

Offensively, Chicago is at its best when they push the ball up the floor and persistently stay on the attack. The Bulls offense begins to sputter whenever they stop running and slow the pace. When that happens, the ball is no longer shared freely and instead gets stuck in someone’s hands for long stretches while everyone else stands around and watches.

For the Bulls to click, they have relentlessly crash the boards at both ends of the floor. They also have to look to get out on the break as often as possible and keep the ball hopping from player-to-player and from side-to-side. So far this season whenever the Bulls establish an aggressive offensive mindset, opponents have had a difficult time slowing them down.

Although the Bucks sit a game under .500, they are a very dangerous team, as they rank among the league leaders in a number of important categories including fastbreak points (#1 at 15.6), the aforementioned points in the paint (#1 at 49.4), assists (#3 at 23.9) and field goal shooting percentage (#3 at .461).

In what is sure to be a heated battle between two blue-collar Central Division rivals, Chicago is going to need to storm off the team bus and hit the hardwood in a laser-focused, determined, and somewhat foul mood by establishing an aggressive tone from the opening tip and never ease off the gas until the final buzzer. Defensively, the Bulls will have to play a strong game by shutting down any open paths to the basket, especially whenever Antetokounmpo or Parker wind up with the ball in their hands. The Bucks are an exciting, athletic team that will want to turn tonight’s game into a track meet — Chicago simply can’t allow that to happen.

The Bulls are going to have to do a tremendous job of communicating with one another and never lose sight of the ball or their man. They need to strongly contest every pass and shot Milwaukee attempts, and they also must wrestle control of the boards, especially at the defensive end, which in theory would shut down Milwaukee’s running game.

By establishing a hardnosed tone from the start and sticking to it throughout the entire night, along with coming out focused and poised at both ends of the floor, the Bulls should be able to get on track with a victory this evening.