It’s Time for the Rematch, Two Struggling Defenses, the Vucevic-Thompson Duo, and Other Bulls Bullets

Grab your metaphorical pitchforks and light your emotional torches … it’s time for REVENGE!

The Chicago Bulls will welcome the Milwaukee Bucks to the United Center tonight for the first time this season. It will be 42 days since these squads battled up north in an ugly 94-90 slugfest, and it will be 41 days since news broke that Alex Caruso suffered a fractured wrist because of the reckless foul by Grayson Allen.

If you’re planning to be in attendance tonight, I’d advise standing clear of all glass. The boos that radiate from the United Center crowd should be strong enough to shatter windows and doors alike. Meanwhile, the tension on the court should be nothing short of palpable. While head coach Billy Donovan took the level-headed approach when asked about the game Thursday night, Tristan Thompson made sure to set the tone for his fellow teammates.

Make sure to check out what he had to say if you haven’t already. It’s worth it. Trust me.

•   I anticipate a physical game tonight, and I know that isn’t some kind of shocking proclamation. Not only is this a division matchup on national television between two teams that sit one game apart with 19 games to go, but chippiness is undoubtedly on the horizon after January’s contest. Now, with that said, I find it very hard to believe we will see these two offenses spiral in the way they did at Fiserv Forum. Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field and combined for a 13-69 performance from behind the arc in Game 1 of this four-game regular-season series. That’s not going to happen again for two teams that rank top-6 in offensive rating, especially when we consider both have also struggled mightily on the defensive end as of late.

•   We all know the Bulls defense has been in a free-fall since Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso both found themselves on the injury report. They have the NBA’s 5th-worst defensive rating over the last month, allowing opponents to score the 6th-most points in the paint per contest. Expecting them to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo – the NBA’s second-leading score – in any capacity is nearly impossible, which means it’s going to come down to neutralizing the threat of secondary stars like Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

•   It’s also going to come down to taking advantage of the Bucks’ own faltering defense. Many have expected them to figure it out by now, but the Bucks have carried a bottom-10 defense over the last month, allowing opponents to shoot 47.5 percent from the field each night. They have also sent players to the free-throw line 23.8 times per game (19th), which is something the Bulls must find a way to exploit (ya know, instead of shooting SEVEN free-throws like they did last night).

•   As much as I want to drink the sweet nectar of revenge, I’d be lying to you if I said I was confident in the Bulls’ ability to pull off this win. Sure, there may be no lack of motivation, but this three-game skid has exposed how much this team has yet to learn with the postseason a little over one month away. The second half of last night’s game, specifically, was a major dub, and we now have to trust the Bulls can use those tired legs 24 hours later against the two-time MVP? Color me … nervous.

•   Speaking of that major-dub, CAN SOMEONE PLEASE REBOUND!? Nikola Vucevic might be one of the best defensive rebounders in the game, but this Bulls team’s lack of awareness and size continues to show itself in the offensive rebounding category. The Hawks grabbed seven of their eight offensive rebounds in the second half of last night’s game. Three came on possessions to take the lead and some were long rebounds the Bulls have to be prepared to snatch off the Hawks’ three.

•   Billy Donovan said something important after last night’s game: “Those shots for DeMar just didn’t go tonight. Most of the year he’s made those shots, and I’ve kind of been talking about this. Some of those shots don’t go in at Indiana at Washington, those are different games. When you win, stuff kind of disappears.” DeRozan went 3-8 from the field in the 4th quarter, missing a handful of shots we’ve seen him make this season. Sure, we can take some solace knowing that those shots will fall more often than not, but what I think Billy is getting at here is the Bulls shouldn’t need them to go down.  The whole point of having a team centered around three of the best pure scorers at their respective position is having options. DeRozan might be the 4th Quarter King this season, but the Bulls can’t rely solely on his difficult shot-making.

•   Donovan tested out a Thompson-Vucevic lineup for the first time last night, even turning to it with under 4 minutes to go. I’m not against trying things out, especially for a Bulls team that typically has the size disadvantage each night. Also, the fact Vucevic has a solid jumper and can stretch the floor makes this somewhat of an understandable gamble. I’m not sure how much more we will see it deployed, though, particularly as Patrick Williams works his way back. And there is no question the offense is still limited in this look. After all, you want to avoid both Thompson and Vucevic near the paint because it takes away room for DeRozan and LaVine to work.

•   I keep turning back to this as I watch the Bulls struggle …

•   A RARE BLACKHAWKS DUB!

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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