In losing to the Cavaliers on the final day of the regular season, the Bucks fell from No. 2 to No. 3 in the Eastern Conference standings, earning them a first-round series with the Bulls.
The Bulls have been one of the best stories in the league this season, but they’ve been in a freefall since All-Star Weekend. Prior to the break, they found themselves in first place in the Eastern Conference standings. They proceeded to go 8-15 down the final stretch, dropping them to sixth.
The Bucks went a perfect 4-0 against the Bulls during the regular season. Two games were decided by single digits, but two were blowouts. Will this series be more competitive?
Here’s everything you need to know about the defending champion’s first-round matchup with the Bulls.
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Key storyline: Can the Bulls make the Bucks sweat?
It’s been a struggle for the Bulls since the All-Star break. Not only did they finish the regular season with an 8-15 record, but the only teams that had a worse net rating during that stretch were the tanking Thunder and Trail Blazers.
Injuries played a role in that. Most notably, the Bulls have been without starting point guard Lonzo Ball since Jan. 15 after he tore his meniscus in his left knee. Following a setback, he’s been ruled out for the season.
After stumbling their way into the playoffs, the Bulls will now face the defending champions in the first round.
Milwaukee’s season has been trending in the opposite direction as Chicago. The Bucks started out slow by their standards but have looked like a team that’s gearing up for a deep postseason run over the last six weeks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo is once again in the running for MVP, but he caught everyone’s attention in leading Milwaukee to a win over Philadelphia on April 29 with 40 points and the game-winning block.
BLOCKED BY ANTETOKOUNMPO!! 🚫 pic.twitter.com/fu39nOgtaP
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 30, 2022
Two nights later, he dropped 44 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Brooklyn. He came up clutch once again, this time nailing a game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime.
GIANNIS 3 TO TIE THE GAME.
WHAT A SHOT. pic.twitter.com/G2wU0n230N
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 1, 2022
The Bulls didn’t have much of an answer for Antetokounmpo during the regular season. In four meetings, the two-time MVP averaged 26.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists on 55.7 percent shooting from the field. He had a couple of 30-point games and flirted with a triple-double in only a half’s worth of minutes in another.
The Bulls will need DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine to be firing on all cylinders to have a chance of pushing the Bucks. DeRozan put together one of the finest seasons of his career, averaging 27.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists. He’ll likely make an All-NBA team and could earn some MVP votes. Zach LaVine has been playing through a knee injury, but he’s still been one of the league’s most explosive scorers, averaging 24.4 points per game.
DeRozan has been a part of some extended postseason runs before, but this will be LaVine’s playoff debut.
Bucks vs. Bulls schedule, TV channels
The 2021 NBA Playoffs will begin on Saturday, April 16.
The full schedule and broadcast information for each series have not yet been released.
Bucks vs. Bulls odds
Odds provided by DraftKings.
Bucks vs. Bulls predictions
Scott Rafferty: Bucks in five games
Micah Adams: Bucks in five games
Gilbert McGregor: Bucks in five games
Ananth Pandian: Bucks in four games
Carlan Gay: Bucks in four games
Kyle Irving: Bucks in four games