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The Bulls wrapped up their regular season on Sunday night with a 124-120 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The game might not have mattered in the grand scheme of things, but both Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosnumnu played well, each scoring a career-high of 35 and 26 respectively.
The Bulls are now locked in with the Milwaukee Bucks for a first-round matchup. The defending NBA champions are arguably the worst possible matchup for the Bulls, but before we get into that, let’s look back at the season:
My pre-season prediction for the Bulls was 45 wins and the sixth seed. They finished 46-36 and qualified for the sixth seed. Not bad.
At the time, avoiding the play-in tournament and winning in the mid-40s would have been a success. And I still think it is, even if it didn’t happen the way we thought.
Crawl, walk, run, right? The Bulls sprinted out of the gate, took a tumble and skidded face first into the playoffs for the first time in a half-decade.
After witnessing one of the most incredible 42-day collapses in NBA history, the sour, post-vomit taste in the fanbase’s mouth is justified. But let’s not forget how incredibly fun and dominant and unique this team was for about 60 games.
Regression to the mean is a very real thing. The Bulls were never as good as they seemed at their peak and they’re certainly not as bad as they seem now. That doesn’t necessarily mean I think they’ll win a single playoff game this season, but they are set up to be very good again next year. And back-to-back good, fun seasons is not something we’ve seen out of the Bulls in a long time.
With a week off to prepare for the Bucks, here’s how to Bulls will use their time.
How to approach a week off a basketball?
Billy Donovan’s key objective will be looking to toe the line between recovery and rhythm. The balance of rest and rust.
“We’ve just got to plan it as best we can and take their health into consideration,” Billy Donovan said. “But not go so far on the health issue that we’re losing conditioning, we’re losing timing, rhythm, we’re losing that competitiveness. So there is that balance you’ve got to strike.”
Zach LaVine has clearly been hampered by the knee injury he sustained earlier this season. Alex Caruso is suffering from back pain and hasn’t been the same since he returned from his wrist injury. Those two will likely prioritize the rest aspect and the Bulls will have to hope that they are as fresh as possible heading into the playoffs.
“We’ve mapped out how we want to go about the week, but how much their involvement in what we need to do with them, it might be they have a day off, it might be they’re just doing parts of practice, but certainly those guys’ health is most important,” Donovan said.”
As for the rest of the group, they have a lot of work to do.
“I do not think you can not play for six days or seven days and just try to go into your first playoff game. We’re going to have to balance that,” Donovan said. “But I don’t necessarily think you can go out there and script and go through shell defenses and concepts without letting these guys play some.”
With the way the Bulls have played over the past month and a half, they need to do some serious preparation.
“There’s always that line, as a coach, you’re walking,” Donovan said. “Is it too much? Is it not enough? Every day, you’re along that line.”
Facing the Bucks
The Bulls now turn their attention toward Chicago North. The Bulls played the Bucks close in their first two games, but got smoked in the last two.
January 21: Bulls lose 94-90 on the road. DeMar DeRozan scored 35 and Zach LaVine was out with injury. But you’ll remember this as the game Grayson Allen tried to commit manslaughter on Alex Caruso.
March 4: Bulls lose 118-112 at home. DeRozan and LaVine combine for 59. No Caruso, no Lonzo Ball, but Jrue Holiday went 6-for-8 in the fourth quarter to push the Bucks over the top.
March 22: Bulls lose 126-98 on the road. Second night of a back-to-back after a signature win against Toronto. Coby White fouled Pat Connaughton on a three-point attempt in the first quarter and it was over after that.
April 5: Bulls lose 127-106 at home. LaVine was held out, but the Bulls were never competitive. First loss in a streak of four. Ugly game in part of an ugly stretch in an ugly second half of the season.
The Bulls came in with a solid game plan that kept things close for those two games of the season series, despite some injuries. Things change over the course of the season and we know the Bucks have since found their stride and the Bulls have clearly fallen off.
We’ll spend the rest of the week digging into all the details about the previous matchups and what we can expect to see when the first round kicks off.
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