Reaching the postseason is a yearly occurrence for the Chicago Bulls, while the Milwaukee Bucks have been accustomed to watching all of the NBA playoffs from home. That won’t be the case in the 2015 playoffs, as the division rivals meet in Game 1 of their first-round series on Saturday night at United Center.
After winning 50 games in the regular season, the Bulls have made the playoffs for a 10th time in eleven years. It’s the fourth time since 2011 that Chicago has home-court advantage in the opening round. The Bucks were swept when they last made the postseason in 2013, and they haven’t experienced any postseason success in recent memory. With just three playoff appearances in the last 10 years, Milwaukee hasn’t been to the second round since 2001.
While Chicago has become a perennial playoff team, injuries have prevented them from making a run to the NBA Finals. Even though the team is somewhat banged up going into their series, the Bulls are as healthy as they’ve been in years. Derrick Rose is still being bothered by a sore knee, but he expects to play an entire playoff series for the first time in four years. Joakim Noah sat out the team’s last two games and Taj Gibson left the regular-season finale with an injury, but both will be ready for Game 1.
An elbow injury kept Jimmy Butler out for most of March, but he finished the year as Chicago’s leading scorer. Even with Rose on the floor, the Bulls’ Achilles’ heel in the last few seasons has been their inability to score. Milwaukee has been the best defensive team in the Eastern Conference, though head coach Tom Thibodeau has his best offensive team since becoming Chicago’s head coach. Pau Gasol turned out to be one of the best additions of the offseason, adding 18.5 points per game to his average of 11.8 rebounds. Nikola Mirotic is scoring 16 points per game since the All-Star break.
Milwaukee’s defense helped lead them to their best record in five years, while their offense ranks near the bottom of the NBA. The team has particularly struggled since trading Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns in a three-way deal. Michael-Carter Williams has taken over as the Bucks’ top scorer, averaging 14.1 points on 42.9 percent field-goal shooting. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been their best overall player, averaging 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
The Bucks are seven games under .500 since dealing Knight for Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee on Feb.19, but they have won three of their last four contests.The Bulls enter the playoffs having won four games in a row.
Chicago won the season series between the two teams, 3-1. The Bulls’ three wins came by an average of 11 points, though Milwaukee was able to beat Chicago just 19 days ago. Milwaukee ended the season five games under .500 on the road, while Chicago went 27-14 at home.
Start Time: 7 p.m. ET
Point Spread: Bulls by 8 points
Over/Under: 185.5 points
TV Channel: ESPN
Online Stream: WatchESPN