Two teams streaking in opposite directions on the eve of the All-Star break conclude their unofficial first halves of the season when the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.
The game matches the Bucks, who hope an eight-day break doesn’t slow their pursuit of the Boston Celtics atop the Eastern Conference, against the Bulls, who are in need of a turnaround over the final portion of the campaign.
The Bucks enter the game on a season-best, 11-game winning streak that has featured victories over the top teams in the East (Boston) and West (the Denver Nuggets). The triumph over the Celtics came Tuesday night in a 131-125 overtime affair.
The win pulled the Bucks within one game of the Celtics, a margin that could be flipped if not for the fact that two of Milwaukee’s 17 losses have come at the hands of the Bulls.
All-Star DeMar DeRozan had 36 points in a 118-113 Chicago win at Milwaukee on Nov. 23 before he singlehandedly outscored the Bucks in overtime of a 119-113 home triumph on Dec. 28. DeRozan finished that game with 42 points.
Neither win ignited a surge by the Bulls, who dropped four of five after the November victory and two of three immediately following the December win.
Chicago has three times put together three-game winning streaks since last seeing Milwaukee but followed those runs with three, two and five consecutive losses.
They take that latter five-game skid into the Thursday matchup. Chicago dropped three straight on the road before taking a 100-91 home defeat against the Orlando Magic on Monday and a 117-113 loss against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Zach LaVine went for 35 points against the Pacers on the front end of the back-to-back, a game that DeRozan sat out due to a strained right quad. DeRozan had yet to be ruled out of the Milwaukee game, and he hopes to be healthy enough to participate in the All-Star Game on Sunday.
Wednesday’s loss was particularly disheartening in that it came after the Bulls played some of their best basketball of the season in the first quarter, running up a 39-15 advantage.
“This has been something that we have to be able to overcome,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said of an inability to hold leads. “It’s skill. It’s poise. It’s composure. It’s experience. It’s decision-making. It’s all those things. It’s not one thing.”
The Bucks’ two All-Stars — Jrue Holiday (40 points) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (36) — stole the show in the Tuesday win over the Celtics, combining for 13 of the team’s 15 overtime points.
Milwaukee got scoring from just three reserves as it awaits the season debut of Jae Crowder, acquired at the trade deadline from the Nets after he’d been sent by the Phoenix Suns to Brooklyn in their acquisition of Kevin Durant.
Crowder hasn’t played this season, and Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer is counting the days to when the veteran will have worked himself into game condition, which likely won’t be until after the All-Star break.
“He does whatever it takes to win,” Budenholzer said. “He does so many little things on both ends of the court. He’s got kind of a toughness on the offensive end, sets screens. He understands spacing, understands timing. He’s won a ton.”
–Field Level Media