The Chicago Bulls will be seeking their first postseason victory since 2017 when they visit the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night to open a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
The Bulls missed the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons, while this campaign marked their best finish since closing the 2014-15 season as the third seed in the East.
Despite its success throughout the season, Chicago now finds itself with a limited backcourt, due mostly to the absence of Lonzo Ball. Ball has been out since mid-January with a knee injury, and the Bulls went 24-23 without him during the regular season.
Alex Caruso also missed the final three games of the regular season due to a bruised back but is expected to suit up for Sunday’s contest. Coby White (toe) is listed as day-to-day, and Matt Thomas is out with a leg injury.
Milwaukee has presented Chicago with plenty of adversity as well, as it swept the four-game season series.
Ahead of the series, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan was aware that his team is going to have to be fundamentally sound on both offense and defense if it wants to advance to the next round.
“We have to maintain a high level of competitive fight,” Donovan said. “They’re champions for a reason. They’re battle-tested. They’ve been through this, and I mean we will have to play very, very good basketball on both ends of the floor.”
While Chicago is looking to rediscover its playoff success, the Bucks are looking to continue theirs as the defending champs.
Milwaukee made history last season by earning its first NBA title since 1971. Coming off a championship season, guard Jrue Holiday said the playoffs are a little bit different this time around.
“More is on the line,” Holiday said. “Some teams probably feel like they have to prove themselves. Other teams are trying to protect what they have. It’s just, the intensity is expanded, and I don’t know, people want to win. We’re competitive so everything is a different level.”
The Bucks closed the regular season by winning 14 of their final 20 games. The late success stemmed from their ability to once again get healthy, as Brook Lopez returned from back surgery and Pat Connaughton came back from a fractured bone in his right hand.
Since his return, Lopez has averaged 12.8 points and four rebounds. Connaughton has also been an important piece on the offensive end, shooting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Although Lopez and Connaughton are good to go, the Bucks could still be without Grayson Allen, who missed the last three games with a hip injury.
George Hill, Serge Ibaka and Luca Vildoza are all listed as day-to-day.
This is the fifth postseason series between the Bucks and Bulls. Chicago came away with a 4-2 series victory in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last time both teams squared off in 2015.
–Field Level Media