If the Chicago Bulls are going to sneak into the playoffs despite their disappointing performance this season, they likely can’t afford too many games like their last one.
After missing an opportunity to make up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Bulls hope to bounce back as they host the struggling Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.
Despite underperforming all season, Chicago (28-44) has remained a contender for a postseason berth in the shallow Eastern Conference. The Bulls’ playoff hopes, however, took a big hit with their 106-103 loss to eighth-place Atlanta on Friday night.
Ten minutes into the game, the Bulls trailed 31-12, and they later fell behind by as many as 22. Their inspired comeback attempt fell short as Chicago dropped four games behind the Hawks for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“Every loss is tough, especially when you kind of feel like you have a chance to win and don’t get it,” said Bulls guard Ben Gordon, who had 18 points. “This is one of our tougher losses.”
That says a lot for a team that has already exceeded last season’s loss total by 11. The Bulls went 49-33 in 2006-07 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, but getting back to the postseason appears like a long shot at this point. With 10 games left in their regular season, Chicago is in 11th place.
The Bucks (24-47) are in even worse position, having lost nine of their last 10 games to fall to 13th in the conference. They shot 34.3 percent from the field in their 103-86 loss to Orlando on Friday night.
“You can try to drop as many storylines as you want, but the bottom line I’d say probably two-third of our shots were good shots. They just didn’t go in,” Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We still have issues where we’re forcing shots at times and shooting up attempts a little bit out of sync when we don’t have very much of an opportunity to get board coverage or defensive transitions.”
Forward Yi Jianlian contributed to Milwaukee’s shooting struggles Friday. The Chinese rookie went 3-for-11, and is 11-for-39 (28.2 percent) in five games since returning from a right wrist injury.
“He started off the season, maybe as an unknown commodity - with a lot of pick and pop. He’d hit open jump shots and now teams are taking that away from him,” Krystkowiak said of the 6-foot-11, 238-pound Yi. “He’s got to develop a game in the low post, which he’s working on, and I think with some time he’s going to put on some weight. I think confidence is a big part, just him knowing what he needs to do to counteract some of that pushing and shoving down there.”
The Bucks have lost five of the last six games against the Bulls, but the teams have split their first two games this season. Milwaukee guard Michael Redd averaged 30.5 points in those contests, and has scored at least 30 in five of his last seven meetings with Chicago. He’s averaging 32.6 in that stretch, which includes a 52-point performance in Milwaukee’s 126-121 overtime loss in Chicago on March 4, 2007.
Gordon had 48 points in that game, and is averaging 28.2 in his last six games - four starts - against the Bucks.
These teams close the season series in Milwaukee on April 14.