The Pick: 91-81
These two teams played on Tuesday night, and the Bucks won an ugly one in Chicago, 78-74. That being said, Carlos Boozer was the only opening day starter that was active for the Bulls in that game, something that isn’t likely to be the case tonight. Joakim Noah (bruised thigh) and Luol Deng (Achilles) are optimistic that they will play tonight, pending a pregame setback, and Jimmy Butler (turf toe) is nearing a return. While the Bucks were also shorthanded for the first meeting (Gary Neal, Caron Butler, and Zaza Pachulia were all absent), they aren’t expected to get any help for tonight’s game. They were able to overcome the injuries thanks to John Henson scoring 25 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, blocking six shots, and recording three steals (career line: 7.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, and 0.4 steals). Tony Snell, a rookie out of New Mexico, played 38 minutes in the first meeting — the same Tony Snell that played 36 minutes in the first 24 days of November. Henson probably doesn’t produce at that level and Snell doesn’t get those minutes tonight which is something that should result in at least the seven point swing needed for Chicago to cover.
The average offense is going to struggle against any Tom Thibodeau defense, but the Bucks figure to take ‘struggle’ to a whole new level. They rank dead last in points per shot (1.10) and the Bulls, despite being 1-3 in their last four, are only giving up 85 points per game over the last week. Chicago is a bit vulnerable against the three-pointer, but the Bucks rank 20th in 3PM and 21st in 3PA, making me believe that they will be unable to exploit this defense’s lone weakness. The only other way to get consistent points against Chicago is from the free throw line, especially given the lack of depth right now, but the Bucks attempt the third fewest freebies in the league. If they aren’t going to make three pointers or even attempt free throws, I’m not trusting an offense that ranks ranks 29th in FG percentage.
Milwaukee is a better defense than you might think (ninth best scoring defense even without Larry Sanders), but they allow opponents to shoot the eighth highest percentage from the field. Deng has been a star level player (when healthy) since the departure of Derrick Rose (26.2 points on 53.3-percent shooting from the field), giving the Bulls one reasonable scorer, which is almost an embarrassment of riches for this matchup. Chicago ranks third in total rebounds and rebound differential, a trend that should help them get their fair share of easy buckets against a Milwaukee team than ranks 28th and 30th respectively.
Fun Fact: There are 11 players on these rosters who average at least 10.5 points, and not a one of them has even half the assist-to-turnover ratio of Nate Wolters.