Michael Walton II writes about the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for We Are Regal Radio.
Michael is a student, freelance writer and high school basketball scout based in Chicago. He’s previously been published in TrueStar Magazine, the Redeye Chicago and thelyricallab.com.
After a long and grueling season that had a ridiculous amount of up-and-downs, the Chicago Bulls are in the familiar position of home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
For the entirety of the year I would tell any and everyone who would listen that the Bulls should do everything in their power to avoid playing the Washington Wizards in the first round. It wasn’t that I believed that the Bulls couldn’t beat the Wiz in a seven game series, but I felt that for the Bulls to truly contend they needed a first round matchup that would give them time to build a little lineup chemistry.
And while the Bucks present a tougher challenge than the average fan is aware of, this is a series I definitely expect the Bulls to win. So with Rose and company finally getting a another chance at postseason glory, let’s take a look at the what insight the regular season gave us into the Bulls-Bucks playoff showdown.
The Bucks’ defense is….shockingly good?
Second-year coach Jason Kidd has the Milwaukee Bucks focusing on the fundamentals before trying to install anything too fancy into the playbook. The Bucks’ defense finished in the top ten in opponent points per game and only the Golden State Warriors finished with a better defensive efficiency rating.
The Milwaukee roster is full of lanky players who make sure to contest every shot and get into the passing lanes often. This led to the Bucks leading the league with 9.6 steals per game. And to make matters even worse, the Bulls strongest offensive weapon this year was neutralized against Milwaukee.
During the regular season, the Bulls’ offense was able to reach new-found heights with the 3-point jump shot, the team finished in the top ten in 3-point percentage and ended up scoring more points per game than I thought a Thibodeau-led team ever would. But Milwaukee has made a point of shutting down the outside shot against Chicago.
The Bulls shot 26 percent from deep against Milwaukee, easily their worst mark against any opponent. Thibodeau’s crew doesn’t need to hit a plethora of three’s to win this series, but they do need to at least keep the very active Bucks’ defense honest.
The Gasol Factor
While the health of everyone in the Bulls’ core (especially Rose) is important, Pau Gasol’s play will the be the critical factor in the Chicago-Milwaukee first round series. The Bucks have played well on offense all year because of their shot selection.
The one thing you notice about Kidd’s squad right away is that they don’t take many 3-pointers, but stretch forward Ersan Ilyasova has shot 47.4 percent from deep over his last five games, and that number hovered around 43.8 percent against the Bulls overall this season.
This is mostly due to Thibs’ ICE scheme which usually encourages opposing big men to take the pick-and-pop jump shot. It is well-known that Gasol has trouble closing out on perimeter-oriented bigs. My suggestion? Ride Gasol early and often in the low-post and maybe he can simply wear out the Milwaukee bigs.
MCW Post-up?! DOUBLE TEAM! DOUBLE TEAM! DOUBLE TEAM!
I won’t go too deep into this one. Michael Carter-Williams’ size obviously presents some interesting match-up problems for the Bulls. MCW’s horrid shooting (38% effective field goal percentage) most likely will result in Thibs refusing to double-team MCW in the post.
But Williams has shown that against the Bulls, specifically, he is able to bend the defense just by the mere threat of him scoring in the post.
If the Bulls send early double teams against a posting Williams, I think we can easily force the young untested guard into careless turnovers. And in this series points off of turnovers may decide the series.
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