Ready for a Rowdy United Center, DeMar Works Giannis, What to Make of Middleton's Absence? And Other Bulls Bullets

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Ready for a Rowdy United Center, DeMar Works Giannis, What to Make of Middleton’s Absence? And Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

In the wise words of every high school basketball recruit: The grind never stops.

The method to DeMar DeRozan’s madness is relentless work, and he reminded us of just that with another late-night shootaround session at the United Center ahead of Game 3.

I can only imagine the contrast DeRozan will feel as he steps onto the floor later tonight. The silence in that arena will be replaced with a playoff-hungry crowd that hasn’t been fed in five years. With that in mind, I expect a small shift in tectonic plates if the Bulls gain literally any lead over the 48 minutes, and I truly can’t wait to experience that pandemonium alongside 23,000 of my closest friends!

•   Speaking of DeRozan’s extra work, it paid off in a big way against arguably the NBA’s best defender on Wednesday night. The All-Star sank 8-of-9 shots when guarded by Giannis Antetokounmpo, including back-to-back clutch midrange jumpers in the 4th quarter. If we’re being honest, I’m not sure it would have made a difference if the Hancock building was plopped in front of the midrange assassin. There is something almost extraterrestrial about DeRozan’s ability to knock down these contested shots, and Antetokounmpo saw that first-hand as the series tied on his home court.

•   I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t absolutely terrified of the Greek Freak tonight. Heading on the road after failing to secure both victories at the Fiserv Forum, there is a very real possibility the Bulls see their most determined version of Antetokounmpo yet. The important question, however, is can the Bulls weather that storm now that Khris Middleton is on the sideline? Not only did the play in Game 1 and Game 2 suggest things could be more competitive than we initially expected, but there is no doubt the loss of Middleton carries some significant weight. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer who averaged 23.6 points on his way to a ring last season. He proves to be a stellar No. 2 alongside Antetokounmpo more and more each year and losing that player for the remainder of the season definitely tightens the race.

•   Now, to be clear, I still think the Bucks should be considered the decently weighty favorites. We’re talking about the reigning champions, and we’re also talking about arguably the best player in the world on the opposite side of the ball. Indeed, the best player on the floor is oftentimes all it takes to win a series, and we shouldn’t fall into a trap of thinking this is all of a sudden the Bulls’ first round for the taking. Again, has accomplishing that become more likely with Middleton out? Absolutely! But I still wouldn’t say the odds are now in their favor. They are going to have to continue to play increasingly better and better to pull this off.

•   So what exactly does the absence of Middleton mean for the Bulls’ moving forward? Well, if one thing is for sure, the defense can now focus even more of their effort on throwing bodies at the 2x MVP. With Middleton’s shot-creation ability off the floor, wing defenders can feel even more comfortable shading off their opponent to send help toward the frontcourt. While the Bucks still have shooters to worry about, it’s reassuring to know the team’s most high-volume 3-point threat is not available for a kick-out opportunity. Likewise, on the defensive end, the absence of Middleton’s length and athleticism could open up an even bigger opportunity for DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine to find driving lanes. Middleton may not be a particularly elite defender, but he’s above average enough where more minutes from guys like Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, and possibly Jordan Nwora to make a difference.

•   One Bucks role player I would keep an eye on moving forward is Jevon Carter. While he may be way smaller than Middleton, I could still see the Bucks turning to him a bit more over the next several games. A high-energy guy with a low center of gravity, he has the capabilities to get into the ball on the defensive end. Not to mention, he’s a 38.3 career 3-point shooter who could certainly capitalize on more catch-and-shoot opportunities. I’m sure the Bulls haven’t been thinking too much about him as this series started up, but those can be the type of players who bite in the butt at times like these.

•   Whole squad ready!


•   The Bulls have played with a much-improved mindset over these past two games, and I think they have their veteran to thank for that.

•  If they needed another reminder of just how unpredictable playoff basketball can be, though, they need to look no further than last night’s Grizzlies victory! I mean, that’s a major yikes from the Timberwolves.

•   More on what went down last night from Patrick …

•   MORE.


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Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.