3 things to watch in Milwaukee Bucks first matchup against Chicago Bulls

Apr 30, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 30, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: Nikola Vucevic
Apr 30, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

We’re near the end of January, around four months into the 2021-22 NBA and the Milwaukee Bucks have yet to play the Chicago Bulls. Until tonight, that is. The old rivals will meet for the first time this season tonight at Fiserv Forum and it’s a matchup that should have been bigger.

Although the Bucks are getting healthy (finally), the Bulls are not. They will be without both Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball (among others) and the matchup has lost some of the allure that it had, say, a couple of weeks ago.

Still, the Bulls have been one of the league’s best teams this season after a splashy offseason that saw them add Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso (again, among others). They’re tied at the top of the Eastern Conference, but only a couple of games out of sixth. That’s how much of a log-jam there is from seeds one through six.

Over the last three seasons, the Bucks are 10-1 against their division foe from Chicago, but this is an entirely new Bulls team, even without two of their key starters.

How will Nikola Vucevic perform against the Milwaukee Bucks?

Yes, DeMar DeRozan is the best player on the Bulls this season and will see a ton of defensive attention from Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. However, the player I’m interested to see how they defend is Nikola Vucevic.

In the past, the Bucks have struggled against pick-and-pop big men and Vucevic in particular has given them issues. In their five-game series against the Orlando Magic in the bubble, Vucevic averaged 28 points per game and shot nearly 41 percent from 3 on nearly nine attempts per game.

The reason they struggle so much against those types of players was due, in part, to their defensive coverage in pick and rolls. When Brook Lopez played, they would concede a ton of open above the break 3s to pick-and-pop bigs like Vucevic.

Now that Lopez is out and the Bucks have been playing a more aggressive pick-and-roll defense, I’m interested to see how they handle Vucevic. He struggled mightily against the Bucks last season (who began to experiment with different defensive coverages throughout the regular season), only averaging 22.5 points on 42.6 percent true shooting.

He will have the size advantage against Bobby Portis if he decides to take him into the post, but that may not be the most effective look for the Bulls offense. They won’t hold Vucevic to zero points, but they have shown they can slow him down in the not-so-distant past.