After making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, the Chicago Bulls open the postseason against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Here’s a look at how the two teams match up ahead of Game 1 on Sunday in Milwaukee.
Big men/post play
Matching up with the Bucks will accentuate the undersized Bulls’ lack of muscle in the paint. The Bucks starting lineup includes 7-foot center Brook Lopez and 6-foot-11 All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, while the Bulls don’t have a 7-footer on the roster.
Center Nikola Vučević will anchor the Bulls, but the team has been fielding smaller forwards such as Javonte Green and Patrick Williams as a secondary bigs all season. Although coach Billy Donovan hasn’t ruled out playing Tristan Thompson in a dual-center lineup, Vučević and Williams likely will be the duo countering Lopez and Antetokounmpo.
Although both are more agile than typical big men, Antetokounmpo is the reigning Finals MVP and one of the most adaptable players in the league. Even without Lopez, Antetokounmpo would be a challenging matchup for the Bulls.
Neither team is in its best defensive stride. The Bucks dropped to 20th in the NBA (115.8 points per game) after the All-Star break despite going 15-7 to close the season. The Bulls were just behind, dropping to the sixth-worst defense in the league (117.9 points per game) during a late-season skid.
Although the Bucks gave up a higher volume of points at the end of the season, they still provide a menacing perimeter defense from guards Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews. Lopez adds another layer to the interior defense, allowing the Bucks to dominate the rim and eliminate second-chance opportunities off the glass.
Alex Caruso’s back spasms create uncertainty for the Bulls’ leading defender. Although Caruso said he felt “as close to 100% as I can” after a weeklong rest period, the guard will have to test that readiness in the series.
Although the Bulls don’t take many 3-pointers, long-range shooting could be a strong point against the Bucks.
The Bulls held opponents to the fourth lowest 3-point shooting percentage (36.6% ) in the league. The Bucks couldn’t shake that trend, averaging 32% from behind the arc against the Bulls in the regular season.
The Bucks are the opposite, allowing the highest number of 3-pointers in the league (14.5 baskets on 40.6 attempts per game). Between shooters such as Coby White and Zach LaVine, the Bulls could utilize this advantage.
The Bucks returned eight members of their championship roster, including four starters — Antetokounmpo, Holiday, Lopez and Khris Middleton. The result is a cohesive team with well-established chemistry and intuitive knowledge of how to adapt and perform in the postseason.
In comparison, only three players from the 2020-21 Bulls roster returned this season. The secondary lineup relies on three players who are 22 or younger — Ayo Dosunmu, Williams and White. The Bulls start three All-Stars, but this is LaVine’s first postseason and the second for Nikola Vučević. Thompson and DeMar DeRozan are the most experienced Bulls players in the playoffs, playing in more than 140 postseason games combined.
The Bucks are also a more experienced team when it comes to head coaching. Mike Budenholzer has been with the Bucks since 2018, winning Coach of the Year for the second time in 2019 before clinching an NBA championship last season. Budenholzer also won Coach of the Year in 2015 with the Atlanta Hawks.
Donovan lifted the Bulls to a winning record and playoff berth in his second season with the team, but he hasn’t had the same time or success in Chicago as Budenholzer in Milwaukee. Despite making the playoffs during all five seasons of his tenure with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Donovan has made it out of the first round only once.
The Bulls made major improvements with this season’s roster — especially through the acquisition of DeRozan and the development of Dosunmu — but the experience and size of the Bucks will be too overwhelming for the Bulls to overcome. Concerns about injuries to LaVine and Caruso only furthers the disadvantage for the Bulls.
Bucks in 5
The Bucks’ depth and playoff experience will be too much for the Bulls to handle. Vučević needs to have a big series to complement DeRozan and LaVine if they’re going to have a chance at winning even two games.
Bucks in 5