Series Score: Chicago 2-0
The Chicago Bulls should be very happy with how things have played out in this series so far. Derrick Rose is back and he is playing at a level that I did not expect from the injury-plagued superstar. Rose followed up a 23-pt/7-assist performance in Game One with a shaky first half performance in Game Two on Monday night. Rose went scoreless in the first half, missing his first seven shots. However the former MVP got going in the second half, finishing with 15 pts, 9 assists and seven boards.
Jimmy Butler is averaging 28 points over the two games as he continues to lead the Bulls offensively. Pau Gasol has struggled with his shooting (31% from the field) so far but has totalled 29 rebounds and 7 blocks. Aaron Brooks continues to be a success as D-Rose’s backup and Tom Thibodeau would be wise not to decrease Brooks’ minutes should Kirk Hinrich return from injury as expected tonight.
The only downside for the Bulls so far has been the physicality of the series. Monday night’s game was a bit feisty and the Bucks’ Zaza Pachulia was ejected after receiving a second technical for an altercation with Nikola Mirotic which has left the Bulls’ Montenegrin rookie a major doubt for tonight’s game. Mirotic may not be lighting up this series so far but he will certainly be missed.
Mirotic is an excellent floor spacer with great outside shooting. His contribution was somewhat underrated all season but his breakout in March – 20.8 PPG - caught the eye of many. His absence will likely mean more minutes for Taj Gibson who will be more than capable of holding his own on the physical end. I still worry the physical aspect could hinder Chicago going forward in the playoffs and they will want to wrap Rose up in cotton wool.
Khris Middleton, who for me should be named the NBA’s most-improved player, has continued his late-season form into the postseason and he leads the Bucks with 20 PPG in the series. Giannis Antetokounmpo has contributed in all areas and off the bench you have John Henson putting in two busy performances and Jerryd Bayless has been efficient in his play as a back-up PG. The Bucks have to be admired for their transition from NBA’s worst team to a .500 team and the East’s sixth seed but I don’t think they will win a game in this postseason.
Milwaukee’s win at home over the Bulls on April 1st was their first home win over Chicago in ten games but I don’t think they make it consecutive home victories tonight. If the Bulls can stay healthy then they will be a hugely difficult second round matchup for the Cavs. Chicago will want to get the job done in four so they can rest up before that titanic battle. They should continue to dominate this series tonight and win somewhat comfortably. Chicago -2.5 looks a good line to me in this one.