Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Bucks (12.30.19)

The Milwaukee Bucks have proved that they can win without star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now, the Bucks will go for their third victory in a row when they visit the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. Antetokounmpo has missed back-to-back contests with back soreness, and his status is uncertain against Chicago.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer recently told reporters that the club wants to be cautious with its top player.

"His back is something I guess would be in that category of something we manage and keep our eyes on, and sometimes it flares up," Budenholzer said. "(On Friday and Saturday), it's enough that he can't play. But you're hopeful that it's not anything significant, even though it is something that we kind of monitor on a regular basis."

The Bucks have beaten the Bulls in each of the first two meetings of the regular season. Milwaukee pulled away for a 124-115 win at home on Nov. 14, and the Bucks won 115-101 when the series shifted to Chicago on Nov. 18.

This time around, Chicago is playing better. The Bulls have won three of their past four games and are coming off a decisive 116-81 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.

Lauri Markkanen scored a team-high 25 points in the win, and Zach LaVine added 19 points.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen said the team's recent success has followed a commitment to fundamentals.

"We talked about that before the game (against Atlanta) and talked about it at halftime that we've been here before and we needed to go take care of business," Boylen said to reporters. "I'm really proud of our guys. I think they're growing. I think they're understanding how important every possession is."

LaVine leads the Bulls with a 23.5 scoring average, and he will look to build upon that success as he vies for an invitation to the NBA All-Star Game. The contest will take place in Chicago this season, and LaVine has spoken publicly about his desire to represent the franchise in front of its hometown fans.

Markkenen is second on the Bulls with 15 points per game, while second-year forward Wendell Carter Jr. ranks third at 11.8. Carter has a team-high 14 double-doubles in 33 starts.

For Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo's top priority is to bring a championship to the city, but he also is pursuing some individual accomplishments such as another MVP award. He leads the team with 30.5 points per game to go along with 12.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

Bucks center Brook Lopez dominated the Bulls in the paint during the teams' last meeting, scoring 19 points while grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking five shots. He will look for more of that success and will have a familiar backup in twin brother Robin Lopez, who spent the previous three seasons in Chicago and remains a fan favorite.

Chicago is 7-10 at home on the season. Milwaukee is 13-3 on the road.

The Bucks are unbeaten in nine games this season against divisional opponents.

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