The Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks meet for the second time in five days tonight. The two Central Division rivals played last Thursday up in Milwaukee, where the Bucks pulled away late for a 124-115 victory behind the heroics of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (38 points, 16 rebounds) and veteran point guard Eric Bledsoe (31 points, eight assists).
Chicago's primary task will be to keep Antetokounmpo from going off again, however the 24-year old supernova comes in averaging a career-best 30.1 points while also shooting a ridiculous 58 percent from the field.
The Bulls are looking to get on track after dropping their last two games. Saturday Chicago lost at home, 117-111, to a shorthanded Brooklyn squad who were without three of its best players in Kyrie Irving (sore shoulder) and Caris LeVert (thumb surgery), as well as Kevin Durant (Achilles) who is expected to miss the entire season.
In the first meeting with the Bucks in Milwaukee, Chicago more than held their own early on, never tailing by more than five points in the opening half, and in fact, leading 32-30 after one, and 66-65 at halftime.
But, a little more than partway through the third quarter Milwaukee went on a torrid 22-6 run, erasing a five-point Chicago lead to claim an 11-point advantage at the start of the final stanza. During this stretch the Bulls went ice cold from the field, missing 14 of 15 from the field.
And although Chicago did a terrific job of holding the Bucks to a season-worst 6-of-33 (18.2%) from behind the arc, Milwaukee adapted nicely by dominating the paint, posting a season-best 70 points to Chicago's 32 in the post.
Bulls rookie Coby White had an outstanding game off the bench, shooting 5 of 8 from distance in the opening half. The 19-year-old guard became the youngest in league history to knock down at least five 3s in consecutive games, as he had connected on seven long balls in Chicago's previous contest. Against the Bucks, White finished with the night six 3s, posting a team-high 26 points while Zach LaVine notched 25.
This evening the Bulls will need to be assertive from the opening tip until the final buzzer, making Milwaukee work at both ends of the court. Chicago's backcourt of Tomas Satoransky and Zach LaVine need to fire up the offense by moving the ball up the floor at a fast pace and never shy away from attacking the rim. Both Wendell Carter Jr., and power forward Lauri Markkanen will also have to crash the boards hard at both ends if the Bulls are going to be able to slow Milwaukee's offensive firepower.
Defensively Chicago must be willing to trust one another, never failing to rotate or jump out to guard an open shooter stationed behind the arc. The Bulls also must pressure the ball, denying the Bucks opportunities to stack easy run-out scores.
Offensively, Chicago must freely share the ball, making sure everyone becomes invested in what's going on. To produce scoring chances, they simply cannot afford to stand around and allow the offense to morph into a one-on-one contest. Continual offensive movement, consisting of persistent slashing through the paint and a willingness to make the extra pass is vital.
It's going to take a total team effort to defeat Milwaukee. Therefore, the Bulls need heady contributions off the bench, especially from Coby White, Kris Dunn and Thaddeus Young, just to name a few.