Tournament-seasoned Bucks turn focus toward Bulls

Field Level Media

November 29, 2023 at 11:01 pm.

A 16-6 run to close a 131-124 victory Tuesday propelled the Milwaukee Bucks to a spot in the quarterfinals of the inaugural NBA in-season tournament.

With the win over the Miami Heat in hand, the Bucks shift their attention to non-tourney matters Thursday against the host Chicago Bulls as Milwaukee aims to apply the lessons they learned in the group stage finale of the tournament.

“Communication, attention to detail, staying locked in on shooters, rotations, all that,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said. “We made tons of mistakes throughout the game, so we were fortunate enough to learn what not to do anymore. So, hopefully we can figure out how to do that sooner in the games, but it’s coming.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points Tuesday and Damian Lillard added 32 to pace five double-figure scorers.

Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and didn’t return.

Chicago encountered its share of injury woes during Tuesday’s 124-97 loss at Boston, the Bulls’ fifth straight defeat and eighth in nine games.

DeMar DeRozan, who matched Coby White with a team-best 19 points, exited midway through the third quarter with left ankle soreness. Zach LaVine (right foot soreness) left the game moments later, finishing with just two points on 1-of-9 shooting.

LaVine is day-to-day as the Bulls aim for a turnaround in the opener of a three-game homestand.

“You go out there and play, man,” LaVine said. “You got a lot of season left. You don’t play the scoreboard. You look at the standings, obviously, but you try to win every game you step into and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

LaVine and others acknowledged the Bulls held enough team meetings and challenged one another to boost their intensity and investment. That gap especially is event defensively. Chicago has allowed 46 made 3-pointers by their opponents over the past two games.

“There are two things that are mandatory in the NBA if you want to win games: effort and execution,” the Bulls’ Alex Caruso said. “If you miss half that, you’re behind the eight ball and probably not going to put yourself in a good chance to win.”

Milwaukee defeated visiting Chicago 118-109 on Nov. 13 in the first of four meetings between the teams this season.

The Bulls have lost their past three to the Bucks, but have stayed afloat behind Nikola Vucevic, who has averaged 19.4 points and 10.2 rebounds in his last 29 matchups versus Milwaukee center Brook Lopez.

It could be tougher sledding for Vucevic on Thursday. Lopez entered Wednesday with a league-best 51 blocks, including 49 in the past 14 games.

“He’s just an (integral) part of what we’re trying to do, especially on the defensive end,” Bucks coach Adrian Griffin said.

“He’s elite on both sides of the ball, but his size, his feel for the game — I just think he has great feel. The players trust him. They know he’s back there cleaning it up and making up for any mistakes and breakdowns.

“He’s invaluable for our defense.”