Round 1 NBA Playoff Preview: #3 Chicago Bulls vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks will have to stifle Gasol to win the series.
The year of 2014 has been quite an interesting year for the Milwaukee Bucks.  Last season, the Bucks were just coming off with the NBA-worst record of 15 wins. Previous Owner Herb Kohl passed over the team to the new ownership of Marc Lasry and Wes Edens. Each party threw a good chunk of their own wealth into the potential construction of a new stadium to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. Jabari Parker was selected in the number two spot in the draft. Mallory Edens stole my heart.  A lot was going on, but possibly the biggest surprise was the not so subtle coup d’etat that thwarted Larry Drew’s career in Milwaukee, and inserted Jason Kidd into the helm of this young team. I didn’t know how to feel that day. I didn’t know how to feel going into the season. So. Many. Feels.

And now, after 82 games, a Jabari season ending injury, major trade deadline shocks, and hundreds upon hundreds of Johnny O’Bryant bricks later, the Bucks find themselves as the East’s 6thseed going up against a deep, well coached, and dangerous Chicago Bulls team. This should be fun right?

WRONG! This was the matchup I was dreading. I’m aware that any of the top four seeds is/would have been a very tough matchup for the Bucks, but does it have to be the guys just a little ways down I-94? If you’ve never been to a Bucks-Bulls game at the BMO Bradley Center, you’ve never experienced one of the most annoying, frustrating, and infuriating NBA atmospheres. Might as well slap a “United Center North” sign on the Bradley Center. That place is crawling will Bulls fans every time they come to Milwaukee. You can hear their cheers from watching the game on your living room TV even. It disgusts me.

This is on top of the fact that this series is going to be a sloppy one. Both teams aren’t the greatest at shooting. The Bulls and Bucks are actually tied for 14th in true shooting percentage (53.6%). So if anyone is expecting some crisp, clean basketball, I’d recommend watching some other series. This one is going to be a series of attrition. Here are my three keys to watch for that will decide this series:
#1: The Bulls’ Depth

The Bulls have been touted as one of the deepest rosters in the league since the beginning of the season. Although the Bulls have been riddled with multiple injuries, it seems they are getting most of their guys back just in time for the playoffs. Derrick Rose has returned in a limited role, but no one knows how well he’s going to play once he gets his feet back under him while playing major minutes. Jimmy Butler came back from his calf injury recently and got minutes in before the season’s conclusion. Kirk Hinrich is out for the playoffs with a knee injury, but regardless, the Bulls’ depth cannot be denied. When you have the likes of Tony Snell (killed Milwaukee on Feb 23rd) , Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks and company backing up Rose, Butler, Gasol, Mirotic, and Noah, it’s going to be a hard series. It will be interesting to watch the Bucks’ bench, and see if the likes of O.J. Mayo and John Henson can step up and change a game or two around in this series.
#2: Rebounding

Rebounding will be the most important difference in this series. It’s the 5th best rebounding team (Bulls) versus the 19th best rebounding team (Bucks) in the league. The Bulls are the league’s 5th best rebounding team on the offensive glass while the Bucks are 13th. On the defensive side, the Bulls are only 19th in the league, but still edge the Bucks who are 24thin defensive rebounding. Henson, Giannis, Pachulia, and Ilyasova are going to have to go against the behemoths of Gasol, Noah, Gibson, and Mirotic down low. That’s a tough task. I’m predicting at least one close to bench-clearing scruff that will be a result of a tussle for a rebound, and you know Zaza is going to be in on that one. Don’t be surprised if Nazr Muhammad gets a quality “playoff shove” in (GIF). If the Bucks have any chance of winning, they need to clean up the boards on the defensive end and put themselves in position to get a few easy put backs offensively as well.
#3: Game Pace

The pace of the game will be critical. Either team can force their will upon the pace, enhancing the advantage each team has against the other. The Bucks are a fast and dangerous team when they get into transition. If they are able to force a couple of turnovers and jump the gun on the Bulls offensively, it might be enough to push back the Chicago offense as well as fuel more energy into their defensive activity. Likewise, it would be wise for the Bulls to try to slow this game up more. They have such an advantage down low, and along with the multiple shooters they have on this team, it will be very hard for the Bucks to stop them when they set up their half court offense.
My rational prediction for this series is that Bulls win it 4-2, yet my heart will always tell me to say, “Bucks in six”. Happy playoffs everyone, lets buckle up and enjoy this one.