Good news and bad news from the Chicago Bulls' annual Circus Roadtrip. The good news is nobody got hurt and they salvaged a 2-3 record. The bad news is they lost three in a row for the first time since Tom Thibdoeau took over the team and saw their roster get badly exposed in losses to the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trailblazers and Houston Rockets, and even down the stretch of their win over the Phoenix Suns.
Now, I was unable to watch their two most recent games due to other commitments — a situation I will be rectifying in the near future — so I hesitate to say anything definitive about either of those games. But we saw some terrible play in both Los Angeles and Portland, and they're not necessarily issues that can be readily fixed. The fact is that this bench is not very good. As much as I like Nazr Mohammed, he is not really an NBA player anymore and the Bulls would be well-advised to avoid playing him going forward. Marco Belinelli is shooting threes better than it seems like he should be at 37.5 percent, but he's also shooting 37.5 percent overall and is a sieve defensively. Nate Robinson is…well, Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague is a rookie.
On the plus side, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson have been solid — I personally would like them both to be starting, although I'm in the minority there — and members of the starting five who are not Kirk Hinrich have also been good, mostly. Carlos Boozer has been extremely hit or miss, but when he's good, he's good. He slapped up 28 and 14 in Phoenix, 22 and 12 in LA, 13 and 14 in Houston and 22 and 19 in Milwaukee. Of course, that was sandwiched around a 4 point, 3 rebound game in Portland, but still.
Going forward, it would be nice to see more Thibs-style lineups that eschew offense in favor of suffocating defense. The offense is going to be terrible anyway, why not refuse to allow any points whatsoever? Any lineup featuring Butler, Taj and Luol Deng together I am in favor of, especially if Joakim Noah joins them.
The Bulls punished a bizarrely undersized Milwaukee Bucks team inside on Saturday — I say bizarrely undersized because it feels like they have 20 big men, even though some of them aren't very good — and that figures to be the case tonight. Brandon Jennings probably won't play after injuring his ankle on Saturday, which means that Monta Ellis figures to take over as the main shot creator. In a fairly small sample this year, Ellis tends to — unsurprisingly — call his own number a lot more with Jennings out, and his three point attempts skyrocket even as his percentage plummets. With Ersan Ilyasova struggling and Jennings likely out, Monta needs to step up for the Bucks to have a chance, but the Bulls need to maintain their advantage inside to counter his dribble penetration.
Key Matchup: Rip Hamilton v. Milwaukee's guards
Hamilton, despite being a shooting guard, is very comfortable in the post against smaller players. The Bulls went to him against Monta several times in the fourth quarter on Saturday and figure to do so again if the two are matched up. If the Bucks roll with Monta at point guard and put someone like Mike Dunleavy on RIp, he'll go back to his usual sprinting around picks drill. As one of the few guys who can provide semi-consistent offense, the Bulls will need Rip to show up again.
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