In the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in six games to advance to the 2nd round. Although the Bulls crushed the Bucks in game six 120-66, overall in the series they did not play as well as they are capable of.
In round two they will face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will pose as a much tougher challenge than Milwaukee did. If Chicago wants to advance they must play well in all aspects of the game. There are three areas they should look to improve on before taking on Cleveland.
1. Turnovers/Ball Security
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Bulls in the first round was ball security. In 6 games they turned the ball over 98 times. That’s an average of 16 turnovers per game. Against a formidable opponent such as the Cavs, that many turnovers will send a team packing. Not only does it take scoring opportunities away, it also gives the other team more chances to score and also easy points on fast breaks and such.
To advance to the conference finals the Bulls must cut down the number of turnovers they commit. I believe many of Chicago’s turnovers in the first round were due to sloppy play and not necessarily great defense by Milwaukee. Chicago Knows how tough the Cavs are and they won’t be as care free with the basketball. They have countless offensive weapons at their disposal and as long as they play smart they will be able to put up points. The Bulls have been down this road before, they know they have to take care of the ball to win.
2. Bench Production
Chicago has had one of the better benches in the league this season. They can go deep in their bench, even to the 10th man, and still get quality production from multiple players. In the first round against Milwaukee, the two biggest scorers off the bench, Aaron Brooks and Nikola Mirotic, were held in check for the most part. They averaged 5.5 and 4.6 points per game, respectively. Each of these players are capable of breaking out for a 20+ point game and may be needed in the series vs. the Cavs.
With Kevin Love out of the playoffs, Mirotic could be a matchup problem at the power forward position and a critical part to Chicago’s success. Other than LeBron James, there are no big men who look to match up well with Niko Suave. Taj Gibson and Tony Snell, other key contributers, also saw drops in their scoring averages by over 2 points. All of these players will be needed to advance to the next round. Much of this drop in bench production has been made up for by Jimmy Butler’s continued dominance, but it will be much easier to win games when everyone on the team is clicking and contributing. As we saw in game 6, the Bulls can score, and score a lot. Chicago’s starting lineup is already a handful to deal with, when their bench is playing well while the starters rest they are almost impossible to beat.
3. Intensity/Starting strong
This should, and most likely will be a non factor in the 2nd round, but it was something that seemed to be a problem for Chicago in the opening round. It almost seemed at times they believed they had the game in the bag and would let up on defense or make an unnecessary turnover trying to do too much.
They didn’t look like they were engaged at all times and made the series harder than expected. I am in no way doubting their heart or hustle because I believe the Chicago Bulls are one of the toughest teams in the association, but they appeared to be thinking about Cleveland while they were playing Milwaukee. This is a series Chicago has hoped for all season long. They will be as focused and prepared as any team could be thanks to the great Thom Thibodeau. The Bulls will get back to their grit and grind mentality in the 2nd round and present a tough test for LeBron and Co.