Bulls a long way behind their closest rival
If Bulls fans closed their eyes and thought really hard, maybe they could imagine a budding I-94 rivalry featuring Lauri Markkanen vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo, a pair of 7-footers who can do just about everything.
This has the potential to be even bigger than the current Robin and Brook Lopez rivalry.
But on a dreary Monday night in February, the Bucks were the only contender at the United Center. With Antetokounmpo piling up 29 points, 17 rebounds and 8 assists, Milwaukee pulled away late for a 112-99 victory.
"Giannis is a handful for us," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. "He's a mismatch nightmare. Give him credit, he's a good player."
The Bulls (13-44) extended their franchise-record home losing streak to 11 in a row. Milwaukee (42-14) improved on the NBA's best record.
Markkanen collected his fourth-straight double-double, finishing with 20 points and 17 rebounds, but he hit just 6 of 21 shots. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 27 points.
"Just preparing for this game, I kind of looked through his (Antetokounmpo's) career and he's improved every year, so that's what I'm looking forward to," Markkanen said. "I'm glad European players are coming back."
Markkanen took a charge on Antetokounmpo early in the game. The second-year forward from Finland tried his best, but was clearly overmatched by the MVP candidate.
"I thought Lauri matched him force for force," Boylen said. "I thought Lauri was aggressive. I think Lauri had some shots tonight we know he can make, he had some plays at the rim. When that big dude gets going downhill, he's a monster. So two good young players.
"Lauri's a tough kid and Lauri's not scared of anybody. A matter of fact, he asked me about guarding him, 'I've got him right? I've got him right?' Lauri's a winning player."
Asked later if that was true, Markkanen said, "I always like to compete against the best and he's definitely up there. So I'm looking forward to that."
Trailing by 14 points with 5:09 left, the Bulls went on a run. LaVine's 3-pointer brought the Bulls within 100-95 with 3:09 left. On the other end, Brook Lopez missed an open 3-point shot in the corner and fouled Markkanen while diving for the rebound. The 2 free throws brought the Bulls within 3 points.
The Bucks had answers, though. First, Eric Bledsoe knocked down a 3-pointer and as the Bulls came up empty on their next three possessions, Bledsoe and Brogdon each knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 107-97 and quickly put things out of reach.
Kris Dunn left the game in the third quarter after falling hard to the floor as he drove to the basket and was hit by Brook Lopez. Dunn stayed in the game, but clearly wasn't moving well and took an intentional foul a minute or so later to take himself out. Dunn later returned to the court. He finished with 2 points and 6 assists, hitting 1 of 9 shots.
The Bulls gained ground in the race for one of the league's three-worst records. Two teams behind the Bulls, Cleveland and New York, played each other, so one of them had to win. The Cavs did and how have 12 v victories on the season, compared to 13 for the Bulls. The Knicks have lost 17 in a row.
Under the new draft lottery format, the three worst teams in the league get a 14 percent chance at the top pick, while the fourth-worst team is given a 12.5-percent chance