Bucks vs. Playoff Preview Bulls: Defending champions seek to continue dominance over central division rivals

Going into the final day of the regular season, the Milwaukee Bucks had to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers to secure second place in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they all rested, punted the game, and dropped to third, setting up a showdown with their central division rivals, the Chicago Bulls.

While many were surprised to see the defending champions maneuvering through the playoffs like this, it was perhaps understandable considering the Bucks have won all four of their regular season showdowns against the Bulls, including sweeping double-digit wins in the last two games.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way and his vast playoff experience, the Bucks will feel confident they can continue their dominance over the Bulls in the playoffs. Even more considering that the Bulls will be without Lonzo Ball and are not playing their best basketball in the final stretch.

Ahead of Game 1 on Sunday, here’s everything you need to know about this first-round series:

Milwaukee Bucks (3) vs Chicago Bulls (6)

  • Game 1: Bucks 93, Bulls 86
  • Game 2: Bulls 114, Bucks 110
  • Match 3: Bucks 111, Bulls 81
  • Game 4: Bucks 119, Bulls 95
  • Game 5: Bucks 116, Bulls 100

1. Bucks Dominance vs. bulls

At the end of the regular season, teams will occasionally have the ability to manipulate their first-round match and first-round playoffs. The Bucks were in that position and took the opportunity to play out their final game to drop from second place in the Eastern Conference to third place. In doing so, they avoided the Brooklyn Nets and scored a showdown with the Chicago Bulls.

There are always different schools of thought when teams make a move like this. Is it smart to set up a more favorable matchup? Or is it a sign of a lack of confidence? Normally, you can make a compelling argument either way, but in the case of the Bucks, it leans more towards the former. For one, they set it up so that they only have to face one of the Nets and the Boston Celtics, and if the Nets win that series, they’ll have the home advantage in the second round anyway.

More importantly though, the Bucks have had the Bulls’ number all season and may be in line for an easy series. Coming off their grueling title race last season, a condensed offseason and injury-ridden regular season, the Bucks will have to dig deep to win it all again. Getting through the first round in four or five easy games and gaining extra rest can go a long way in your repeated efforts.

In their four regular season games, the Bucks went 4-0. (Actually, the Bucks are 11-1 against the Bulls in the Mike Budenholzer era, and the only loss was in the last game of the last regular season, when no starters played.) And in the last two games, the Bucks won convincingly. . by 28 and 21 points, respectively.

The Bucks are massive -1100 favorites in this series by Caesars Sportsbook, and for good reason. Milwaukee is the best team and this is a bad showdown for Chicago. Perhaps the biggest problem for the Bulls is that they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league after the All-Star break, allowing for 117.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s bad news for a Bucks team that went all-in on offense. In particular, with their thin frontcourt, the Bulls have no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 26.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and five assists per game with 55.7% shooting in his regular season games.

2. Bad blood

In 2015, the last time the Bucks and Bulls met in the playoffs, young Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected from an embarrassing 54-point loss in Game 6 for running the length of the track and body checking Mike Dunleavy. stay.

While things haven’t reached that level this year, there is some real rancor between the two teams that stems from the blatant foul by Grayson Allen who broke Alex Caruso’s wrist in January. Caruso later revealed that Allen never apologized or checked on him after the incident.

“Y—. Take one of my dogs out like this, we’re going to be in trouble,” Thompson said ahead of the team’s March 22 showdown. “You have to set the tone. That’s what Bulls basketball is all about, setting the tone.” In that game, Thompson and Serge Ibaka entered the game at the end of the fourth period and almost got into a fight.

When the teams met again earlier this month on April 5, Nikola Vucevic hit Allen with a hard free kick that earned him a coach. Both Vucevic and Allen tried to downplay the incident in their post-game comments, but it was hard to refuse considering recent history.

At the very least, these teams don’t seem to like each other. The two fan bases, who are only 90 miles apart and have been embroiled in an intense regional rivalry for decades, really dislike each other. Combine that with the intensity of the playoffs and we could be in for a potentially flammable series.

3. Can the Bucks keep DeRozan off the free-throw line?

When the Bucks and Bulls first faced each other this season on Jan. 21, it was a slow, difficult game that the Bucks managed. That night, DeMar DeRozan finished with 35 points and shot 18 free throws.

The next time the two teams played, on March 4, DeRozan had 29 points but only five free-throw attempts. When they faced each other again a few weeks later on March 22, DeRozan had 21 points and hadn’t taken a single free throw – the only time this has happened all season.

It wasn’t an accident either.

“I’m sure it’s a talking point for every team,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after the March 4 win. “It’s a credit to our players to go out there and be disciplined, stay on the ground, not miss him. I think playing him and him having 18 free throws against us (in the last game), there are some scars there.”

After conceding 18 free throws to DeRozan in the first game, the Bucks made a point of defending without fouls and keeping him off the line. In the last three regular season meetings combined, DeRozan had just 13 free throw attempts. Maintaining that defensive discipline will be critical for the Bucks on Sunday.

DeRozan just put together one of the best seasons of his career, and he did so in large part because he made it to the lineup at an elite level. His 7.8 free throw attempts per game ranked fifth in the league, and he hit 87.7%, which was good for 12th in the league. The Bulls are going to need a big series from DeRozan if they want to cause a comeback, but it will be hard for him to put the team on his back if he doesn’t get easy points regularly at the finish line.

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