To win their playoff series against the Bucks, the Bulls will have to figure out a way to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo from putting on a dunkfest.
Can the Bulls beat the defending champion Bucks in a best-of-seven series? Let me answer that question with a question: What kind of question is that?
Of course they can beat the Bucks! Where is your faith? Where is your belief in the power of possibility? What’s that? It has been missing since the Bulls’ 50th straight loss to Milwaukee? Listen, pal, why don’t you plop down in the middle seat between doom and gloom and fly out of town?
Or, you can follow my buoyant lead. When you eat from the plate of brownies I’ve apparently just sampled from, the question becomes how the Bulls will pull off an upset and win this first-round series, which starts Sunday.
Now, I’m very much aware that their regular-season record against the Bucks was 0-4 and is what might be called “cause for concern.’’ So, too, is the Bulls’ record this season against any team that might be called “you know, good.’’ And, OK, if you choose to bob in a giant vat of negativity, it’s true that when Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was on the floor the last 13 times the teams played, the team not named the Bulls won 13 times.
From where, then, does my optimism flow? First of all, it’s not optimism. It’s self-preservation. I can’t sit through another rerun of the Bucks stomping on the Bulls in 4/4 time. There is nothing worse than knowing what’s going to happen before it happens, especially when it involves a loop of Antetokounmpo dunking at will.
As my imaginary life coach, Gunther (no umlaut) says, if I can envision a positive outcome from this series, perhaps a positive outcome will indeed emerge triumphant. It’s all I’ve got, folks. It’s either that or locking myself in a dark room for the rest of my days, with meals being passed through to me via a slot in the door. My soul cries out: No! I want to live, dammit!
So how can the Bulls beat the Bucks? Let me make a case for hope.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer gets confused: The way I visualize it, Coach Bud gets hit in the head by a rogue basketball during shootaround before Game 1 and, concussed, mistakes Thanasis Antetokounmpo for younger brother and Bucks superstar Giannis the rest of the series. Mistakes Thanasis’ 3.6 points per game and $1.7 million salary for Giannis’ 29.9 points per game and $39.3 million salary. Giannis ends up getting 10 minutes a night in the series and almost becomes a nonfactor. I do worry that, despite the mistaken identities, we’re going to find out that it’s actually the Bucks’ uniforms, not the players in those uniforms, that bewilder the Bulls.
The playoffs really are a new season:Why, yes, I am going where every coach and every player has gone for motivation since the beginning of time: Forget that problematic regular season. It’s do-over time. Pay no attention to the Bulls’ 1-14 record against the Eastern Conference’s top four teams this season. For reasons that completely escape me right now, the Bulls will become new men. Nikola Vucevic’s defense in the paint suddenly will look like it’s ringed with barbed wire, replacing the Cheez Whiz deterrence of the past. A faith healer lays hands on Lonzo Ball, whose season was supposed to be over because of a setback during his recovery from a knee injury. He comes back and gives the Bulls a huge lift. Unfortunate side effect: The faith healer also helps stage dad LaVar Ball find his voice.
The Bulls’ Big Three gets with the program:This involves DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Vucevic pooling their talents and turning into one very large, very powerful force. DeRozan was excellent this season, LaVine was very good when he was healthy and Vucevic was the double-double machine he has been most of his career. But, together this season, they weren’t good enough against good teams. This is the moment they decide they’re better than the Greek Freak, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. No, really. I’m not kidding. What’s so funny?
DeRozan goes Italian Stallion on the Bucks:Remember when Rocky Balboa switched from southpaw to right-handed to confuse Apollo Creed in “Rocky II”? This is kind of like that. This is where DeRozan, who averaged fewer than two three-point attempts per game, ditches his famed midrange game and turns into Steph Curry. The Bucks will be shocked and ill-prepared and quite likely will forfeit the series. Crazy? So crazy it just might work.
Grayson Allen gets the entire Bucks team suspended:Milwaukee’s congenital irritant and serial tripper finally goes too far. He clotheslines Coby White, puts laxatives in the Bulls’ Gatorade container, makes sure Billy Donovan gets an electric shock every time his marker hits his clipboard and lets slip he has been visiting veterinarian sites for how to neuter Benny the Bull. With NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspending Milwaukee’s roster for the rest of the playoffs because of Allen’s transgressions, the Bulls appear to be on their way to the second round.
Prediction: Bucks in four anyway.